In an interview last week, a World Health Organization official told the British Spectator magazine that national governments must stop using lockdowns as their “primary means” of fighting COVID-19.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as a primary means of control of this virus. The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to re-organize, re-group, re-balance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted. But by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
Dr. David Nabarro, the U.K’s envoy to the WHO, joined The Spectator’s Andrew Neil for a portion of The Week in 60 Minutes on Thursday, in which he argued that governments must begin operating in a way that balances the concerns of both public health and national economies in their COVID-19 strategies.
“We really do have to learn how to co-exist with this virus,” Dr. Nabarro told Neil, “in a way that doesn’t require constant closing down of economies.”
While not making light of the severity of the pandemic nor downplaying the role of governments and the public in mitigating the spread of infection, Nabarro also spoke of the detrimental effects that the shutdowns have had on business and poverty.
“Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition because children are not getting meals at school and their parents in poor families are not able to afford it. This is a terrible, ghastly global catastrophe, actually. And so, we really do appeal to all world leaders: Stop using lockdown as your primary control method. Develop better systems for doing it, work together and learn from each other, but remember: Lockdowns just have one consequences that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”
You can watch the 11-minute interview to hear the whole of Nabarro’s comments by clicking here.
The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11th of this year. In his declaration, Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called upon countries to “strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.”
“I have said from the beginning that countries must take a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach,” he wrote, “built around a comprehensive strategy to prevent infections, save lives and minimize impact.”
By the end of March, over 100 countries had entered full or partial lockdowns.
The battle since those spring shutdowns has been between the recommendations of health officials, economic interests, and the inherent freedoms of the public.
Dr. Nabarro said that this “interplay” is a good thing and that efforts should be toward a strong economy and controlling infection rates.
“It’s right that there should be interplay between the public health doctors and government. In the end, government has to take responsibility for balancing what might be seen as the trade-off between health and the economy. Our line is to say: Let that be temporary. What we want you to do, because this virus is going to be around for quite a long time to come, is work out how you can keep the economy going and keep the numbers of disease cases down.”
Instead of unending shutdowns, Dr. Nabarro advocated for something called “the Middle Path” in an effort to balance both public health and economic strength through “a really high level of organization by governments and a remarkable degree of engagement by the people.”
According to Nabarro, the Middle Path requires three things: (1) “very well-organized, localized infectious disease control services” (which he explained would be focused on testing, contact tracing, and isolation); (2) “involving local actors” to deal with spikes on a local level rather than from a “central control center”; and (3) a cooperative public willing to work together.
“This virus is so new to humanity. We’re only 9 months into it, really, if you think of how long it’s been in Europe. I think it’ll take us quite a lot more weeks to really work out how we’re going to live with this virus, what balance of risk we’re prepared to tolerate, and also how we’ll work to collectively organize ourselves. But I reckon that early next year we’ll be feeling much more comfortable and it will become second nature, but right now, it’s a bit stumbling in the dark.”