Scientist says 'lockdowns are the single biggest mistake in history' 3 months ago

Scientist says 'lockdowns are the single biggest mistake in history'

"Historians will look back on this and say this was the single biggest public health mistake, possibly of all history, in terms of the scope of the harm that it's caused".

A Stanford professor has described lockdowns as "the single biggest public health mistake" in history.

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Speaking on The Telegraph's 'Planet Normal' podcast, Jay Bhattacharya - a professor of medicine from Ivy League school, Stanford University - said that the legacy of lockdowns across the globe will be seen as a failure when people look back in history.

The 63-year-old researcher for the National Bureau of Economic Research and director of Standford's Center for Demography and Economics of Health and Aging believes that many scientists have simply clung onto the perceived effectiveness of lockdowns and they "remain attached" to the idea despite the "failure of this strategy".

In Bhattacharya eyes, not only have lockdowns resulted in "enormous collateral consequences" but that he believes "historians will look back on this and say this was the single biggest public health mistake, possibly of all history in terms of the scope of the harm that it's caused".

His rationale, beyond the obvious reality of having to keep people inside and isolate them from their loved ones, is that "[e]very single poor person on the face of the earth has faced some harm, sometimes catastrophic harm from this lockdown policy" adding that these harms are "sometimes hard to see but are nevertheless real" - i.e. mental health.

For example, according to a survey carried out by YoungMinds - a youth mental health charity in the UK:

Autumn 2020

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  • 69% of respondents described their mental health as poor now that they are back at school; this has risen from 58% who described their mental health as poor before returning to school.
  • 40% of respondents said that there was no school counsellor available to support students in their school
  • Only 27% had had a one-to-one conversation with a teacher or another member of staff in which they were asked about their wellbeing, by the time they completed the survey.
  • Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said that there was less mental health support in their school than before the pandemic, while only 9% agreed that there was more mental health support.

Summer 2020

  • 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus pandemic had made their mental health worse. 41% said it had made their mental health “much worse”, up from 32% in the previous survey in March. This was often related to increased feelings of anxiety, isolation, a loss of coping mechanisms or a loss of motivation.
  • 87% of respondents agreed that they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period, even though 71% had been able to stay in touch with friends.
  • Among more than 1,000 respondents who were accessing mental health support in the three months leading up the crisis (including from the NHS, school and university counsellors, private providers, charities and helplines), 31% said they were no longer able to access support but still needed it.
  • Of those who had not been accessing support immediately before the crisis, 40% said that they had not looked for support but were struggling with their mental health.
  • 11% of respondents said that their mental health had improved during the crisis, an increase from 6% in the previous survey. This was often because they felt it was beneficial to be away from the pressures of their normal life (e.g. bullying or academic pressure at school)

Further data that supports his case includes the UK's unemployment rate, which after having fallen for a decade, has now risen to 4.8% in March 2021 one in every three young black people are currently estimated to be out of work as research around the Sewell Report suggesting that the pandemic has hit BAME communities harder than others.

Furthermore, you only need to look at the increase in varying degrees of food insecurity across the UK during the pandemic to see the added impact lockdown and subsequent unemployment (among other factors) has had on families:

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Food insecurity stats in the UK during pandemic

Bhattacharya went on to say that many patients with other serious illnesses, whether they be known or undiagnosed, have been reluctant to attend hospital over fears of catching COVID-19. He argues that "we closed our eyes to [these ramifications] because we were so scared about the virus and so enamoured with this idea that the lockdown could stop the virus".

The professor added that "The actual practise of a lockdown is a class of people, a small class of people, relatively well-off, who have jobs that can be done remotely well. Those people, they can be protected while the rest of society has to face the harms of the virus, whether they're vulnerable or not." Bhattacharya is one of several who thought "focused protection" was the approach.

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For example, Professor Gabriel Scally, a public health expert and former health adviser to Labour, said: "There was a steady flow of people coming in from various countries as the virus spread" last year - the suggestion being that had foreign travel been suspended earlier, this spread may not have been so intense.
"We left our borders open, we left our door open to the virus, and that contributed substantially to the very rapid growth in the virus that we subsequently saw", she said, with Professor Nick Davies also stating that "had lockdown been imposed a week earlier, we may have avoided about half or slightly more than half the number of deaths."
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Conversely, those who leaned towards anti-lockdown ideologies have been criticised for "half-baked" hypotheses supported by little evidence, e.g. endangering the vulnerable while hoping herd immunity would start to spread.
Of course, the underlying impact of staying indoors for over a year has, no doubt, had an impact on all of us but the debate will rage on as to what the alternative would have been. It was a case of prioritising immediate physical health over mental wellbeing in the hope that we could get through it sooner rather than later - perhaps the issue was more how slow we were to act.