Trying to lock down until Covid is eradicated would be dangerous folly

By | 25th January 2021

…A big problem of Covid-19 management in the UK has been its lack of clarity about precisely this: when do we stop lockdowns, face coverings and social distancing, and dial our lives back to 2019?… The challenge that faces us as a society now is to decide between two views of the future. Are we going to try to pursue the elimination of Covid-19 within the UK, regardless of the social and economic cost, or are we going to decide on what we consider to be a tolerable level of deaths in order to enable a return to the life we considered normal before 2020?

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, pressed the need for such a debate during evidence he gave to the science and technology select committee on December 9. “At a certain point, society, through political leaders, elected ministers and Parliament,” he said, would have to decide on what is an appropriate level of risk, “just as we accept that in an average year 7,000 die of flu and in a bad flu year 20,000 people die of flu”. He also recognised that it was “very unlikely that we will get to a zero level of risk”, and that deciding the level of Covid we are willing to accept relative to the damage that is being done to society and the economy is ultimately a political question and not one that could or should be left to medics and doctors… Unfortunately, a significant faction of medics and scientists do not seem to agree. Their goal is to eliminate respiratory infections – even one as trivial as Covid-19 will be in a post-vaccine world. It is possible that we could abolish this cause of death by continuing the restrictions of 2020 indefinitely – the problem, of course, is that we would simply die from something else…

The experienced clinicians that I have been lucky to work with over the last 50 years share Prof Whitty’s more balanced view. They know that they cannot deliver immortality and that quantity of life should not be confused with quality. I suspect many citizens will share that view. But if we want to turn the clock back to 2019, we cannot assume that this will happen unless our representatives demand that democracy prevails over iatocracy – rule by medics.

A Social Science Space blog

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