What is most revealing about the new study is what it leaves out
The charge made by the report is, unsurprisingly, a familiar one: that we should have locked down sooner. That is in spite of the fact that the scientific advice at the time — early March 2020 — was to not lock down, and that lockdowns had been previously discouraged by the WHO. Nor was there much mention of the health and societal impacts of lockdown, the data for which is slowly beginning to emerge. Just this week, a new Lancet report found soaring levels of depression over the last 18 months, noting:
Some will of course argue that an earlier lockdown would have meant a shorter lockdown, thus eliminating many of the mental and physical health problems associated with staying at home for extended periods of time. But it’s worth bearing in mind that Australia — regularly touted as a success story for locking down early and flattening the curve — has a city like Melbourne, which has spent over 250 days in lockdown.
So it is unclear where this advice leaves us. Covid-19 may have been the only pandemic we locked down for, but it is far from the only pandemic in living memory. Considering that the risk of pandemics is increasing year on year due, in part, to increased urbanisation and habitat loss, should we be expected to lock down for each and every threat? If that is our response, this will have massive implications for our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy.
Another galling feature of the report is the way it glosses over how under-resourced the NHS was at the time. After all, the decision to lock down in March 2020 was to “protect the NHS”, which was already in a vulnerable state. A better question for the report, then, might have been why the NHS was in such bad shape in the first place?
This question was barely answered, let alone addressed. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that one of its writers, Jeremy Hunt, was himself responsible for overseeing a significant fall in the value of the NHS PPE stockpile during his years as Health Secretary. But maybe that just slipped his mind…