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Do We Need Lockdowns?

Entry 2080, on 2020-10-13 at 12:14:19 (Rating 3, Politics)

I have seen several conspiracy theories recently which suggest that the coronavirus is a deliberate tactic devised by China to weaken the Western World's economy, and to give China more political and economic power. Some say the virus was created in a lab for this specific purpose, while others are slightly less extreme and say that the virus is natural, but its existence has been manipulated by China for its own benefit.

In addition, the overall effectiveness of lockdowns has been questioned by many people, and recently the World Health Organisation seems to have backtracked on earlier opinions regarding them being the best response. This change of opinion has not been well publicised, which could either mean it is either untrue or inaccurate, or that the mainstream media have suppressed that information. Both of those options are possible, although I have seen it reported in a few MSM sources, so I think it is credible.

There is little doubt that COVID is a serious disease - and is more dangerous that similar conditions such as flu - both because of its ease of transmission and its death rate. Note that the death rate is almost certainly lower than many of the estimates quoted by governments, but even when that exaggeration is accounted for it is still significantly higher than flu.

So the long-term efficacy of lockdowns is certainly a subject for fair debate - although short-term they do seem to work - and that means that the wisdom of the most common response for the majority of countries is questionable.

Despite these uncertainties there does seem to be one factor which is difficult to dispute: that is that the political and economic systems in most "modern" countries have been shown to be quite deficient in most cases.

What do I mean by this? Well, extra capacity in health systems doesn't exist, leading to lack of capacity when it is required. Also, outsourcing of manufacturing to foreign countries (ironically, mainly China) has show that when production needs to be increased or modified to meet new requirements it is often not possible to do anything. And the general fragility of capitalism also seems to have been exposed because the lockdowns have required massive government support for private businesses to prevent their total failure.

It has been about 100 years since the last global pandemic on this scale (although smaller outbreaks, such as SARS, have occurred more recently) so you might make the case that our systems have achieved a lot of very positive outcomes in that time and that their failure under extreme circumstances is excusable because that is so rare.

But there have been many other less critical failures, caused by health, political, and economic crises in recent times. Clearly the fragility of the system is a bit more serious than just its response to this single event.

And while the Western World's economies have struggled, other countries have taken advantage of the situation and advanced theirs. These countries, such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and China, have often succeeded without draconian lockdown regimes.

I'm not the sort of person to totally reject the idea of lockdowns, because despite their obvious problems, an argument could be made to say that not having a lockdown could easily be even worse. But if we consider a medium term outcome here (of maybe 5 to 10 years) rather than any apparent short-term success the situation is less clear.

And the wisdom of lockdowns is open to question more now than in the past. The recent WHO opinion that I mentioned above brings this idea into more serious consideration, instead of being the conspiracy it was previously. And yes, remember that some conspiracies are actually true!

Also, there are a few ideas starting to appear now which question whether the conformity shown by some populations - maybe most notably New Zealand's - is really the great thing which it has been seen as in the past. A recent speech by Chris Finlayson points out that dissent can be the sign of a healthy society, and that failure to question authority has lead to many bad outcomes in the past.

In fact this whole question might be one of the defining points of difference between the warring factions in many modern nations. There seems to be an increasing division between the people who find central decision-making and a compliant population a good thing, and those who are more attuned to an individualistic approach where people make their own decisions with minimal input from government. And yes, these divisions do usually get back to the old left versus right dichotomy.

Despite my abhorrence for many of the more extreme ideas on both the left and right, I have to say here that both approaches have strengths and weaknesses. I strongly support individual freedom in most cases, but there are situations where central control might be more appropriate. Arguably, dealing with a pandemic is one of those situations.

Despite the fawning admiration of the (corrupt) mainstream media, I don't think New Zealand has done a particularly good job. As I have said in the past, all that happened is the government left it too late to act in a reasonable way, so they were forced into one of the most restrictive lockdowns in the world. And in the short term it did work, but that was probably more because of the isolation and relatively small size of the country than anything else. Many countries had less restrictive policies but lower death rates. Was New Zealand's response really that great? I don't think so.

And the great "Sweden experiment" is still a point of debate too. Initially it looked like their rate of infection and death was bad enough that it made their response look like a failure, but now there are several countries which did have lockdowns but have higher death rates than Sweden. I realise it isn't that simple, but it should make us question the unthinking acceptance of lockdowns.

No doubt the draconian measures - which eliminate many of our hard fought for individual freedoms - which were introduced by many governments, suit many on the left who favour government control, but I question this. I'm not saying we should ignore the pandemic and act like idiots - which has been some people's response - just that we need to look at the big picture and not automatically accept the most restrictive responses to the problem.

We should just ask this question: do we need lockdowns?

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Comment 10 (5559) by OJB on 2020-10-25 at 17:36:50: (view earlier comments)

Yeah, itís hard to see how lockdowns could *not* reduce infections of and death from COVID. The question is, are the negative consequences outweighed by the benefits; and, if they are, over what time period.

I think factors such as the size of the country, relative isolation, etc, are as important as anything else. This means the much lauded result here in New Zealand really isnít really anything too impressive. Of course, the mainstream media give a very different impression, but thereís nothing surprising there.

So, assuming the doubt we have is valid, what has caused this almost universal response of imposing lockdowns? Are we talking some sort of conspiracy? Or is it just mass hysteria? I believe the second, because it seems there is just one example of this after another: climate change, metoo, BLM, COVID. All issues based on some level of reality, but which have been overtaken by some sort of mass hysteria.

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Comment 11 (5561) by Derek Ramsey on 2020-10-27 at 09:08:15:

OJB said: "...what has caused this almost universal response of imposing lockdowns? Are we talking some sort of conspiracy? Or is it just mass hysteria?"

A conspiracy implies that world leaders (and functionaries) of competing political parties are extremely intelligent, unified perpetrators of fraud with an uncanny ability to keep such a public thing hidden from view. As this would require the involvement of thousands (millions?) of persons, this seems highly improbable.

I don't buy mass hysteria. Many places bypassed normal legislative methods to institute lockdowns by fiat. Mass hysteria does not explain why governments acted the way they did. The masses were not the ones that predicted 10x or 100x the number of deaths, pushed for lockdown, or (in the U.S.) instituted travel bans. No, it was the leaders. If mass hysteria was a plausible hypothesis, then it would be mutually exclusive from conspiracy.

So, what made leaders almost universally, and at all levels of government, no matter their political party, act irrationally and incompetently in roughly the same way and to continue to do so even after being shown to be acting thusly. What do they share in common that explains this almost universal commonality?

Almost everyone I have talked to has given the explanation that governments are just incompetent. Yet, consider New York. It was, by far, the worst state in the US, yet Governor Cuomo has received heaps of praise for his handling of the situation. He, like nearby states that were hit hard, instituted official policies that increased the risks to nursing homes. In Pennsylvania, the government had a response plan ready to go that would have protected the nursing homes, but did not implement it! Rather, it copied the same behavior as NY. This resulted in many deaths. I've read reports of a number of countries (e.g. Ireland) that did the same. How is this merely incompetence?

For the incompetence argument to work, you have to agree that the vast majority of governments are so corrupt and useless that anything they do will be net negative. You have to agree that this incompetence exists at all levels of governments (local; regional; national) across the entire world and across all political parties. You have to agree that the vast majority (more than 90%) of voters do not acknowledge this fact (making their political opinions equally worthless).

But even if you do that, it doesn't explain how we got to this point. What explains the universal commonalty of political incompetence? I don't believe it is incompetence (alone). When I see governments universally instituting policies that will increase deaths, I call it what it is: evil. Active evil. This leads to the obvious question: why is almost everyone evil? Atheism has no answer to this question.

There were hardly any countries that didn't lockdown. Similarly, only 26 countries in the world have outlawed abortion. Abortion has resulted in more human deaths than all wars in all of history combined. It is the greatest evil that mankind has ever known, dwarfing the holocaust. Year after year, abortion is roughly tied with heart/circulatory disease for the leading cause of human death. Almost everyone goes along with it, indicating that there exists no evil that the majority of humans won't support.

What causes this almost universal response? The objective reality of what God calls sin. But if, rather, the explanation is that people are basically good with good intentions and that most are 'just following orders', then all you will have is incompetence as the unsatisfying explanation to your question.

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Comment 12 (5562) by OJB on 2020-10-27 at 09:12:06:

I still think hysteria, as well as incompetence, is a significant factor. Obviously, I don't think your attempt to bring religious morality into the discussion helps much (I would enjoy a debate on that, but probably not here - I might right a separate blog post on that topic). And the abortion issue is a completely separate one, which I have discussed elsewhere. If it helps, I am also very uncomfortable with the idea of abortion in any form.

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Comment 13 (5563) by Derek Ramsey on 2020-10-27 at 09:22:02:

OJB said: "itís hard to see how lockdowns could *not* reduce infections of and death from COVID"

Sure, lockdowns, social distancing, and masks may work temporarily. Factoring in seasonality and herd immunity, it can *not* work indefinitely. @RCAFDM on Twitter gives geographical differentiation data and explains:

"Öthe incremental effect [of] herd immunity is much larger than commonly appreciated and that this is an inherently seasonal respiratory virus, much like the common cold and seasonal influenza. [..] Actual existing social distancing at best moderately effective at slowing the spread. The patterns weíve observed are better explained by herd immunity and seasonality than differences in distancing, mask usage, etc."

A first wave cannot be avoided. Without herd immunity, a second wave is inevitable. Now, with the next season upon us, everyone will get hit anew. COVID being "just like the flu" means seasonality. Seasonality determines the shape of the curve, regardless of how dangerous it is.

Consider the per capita death curves of Sweden and NYC. The shape of the curves are quite similar, but the magnitude is not. NYC, with a higher population density, has a higher herd immunity threshold. Herd immunity determines the magnitude of the curve. Humans can influence this magnitude by putting some subpopulations at risk over others prior to establishing herd immunity.

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Comment 14 (5564) by OJB on 2020-10-27 at 09:22:22:

Not sure if I am convinced about your argument regarding herd immunity. With most diseases an infection rate in the 80 to 90% range is necessary for it to be effective. Sweden isnít even close to that. I will have a look at the argument though. The seasonality argument does make a lot of sense, but again I would like to look at the data more closely.

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