There hasn’t been much good news this year, so it is understandable why the recent announcements, that Pfizer and Moderna have developed effective Coronavirus vaccines, have excited people all around the world. On its own terms, this development is definitely good news – it is now possible to envision a path for society to begin to recover and for the vulnerable to be protected. Yet on closer examination, there is a risk of this development leading to a new disaster.
It is now increasingly accepted, particularly on the Right, that lockdowns have been a calamity in every way possible. By banning virtually all economic activity and scaring people away from those few activities that did remain open, government diktats induced the worst recession in centuries for countries around the world. For example, the UK economy has suffered its biggest collapse in 300 years.
One of the shibboleths often put out by those in the pro-lockdown lobby (a group primarily composed of public sector workers with no understanding of or vulnerability to economics) is that it is not the lockdowns themselves that cause the economic damage – but fear of the virus. This is true to some extent, yet when looking at the data there is a clear correlation between the severity of lockdown measures and the depth of recession. In the second quarter, the US, with a shorter and less comprehensive lockdown, only saw its GDP fall by 9per cent. The UK, with one of the longest lockdowns in Europe, saw a fall of 20 per cent.
Whilst some on the Left like to pretend that GDP does not matter, there is huge evidence that economic prosperity is intrinsically linked to the health of the people. It is not a coincidence that the most deprived communities around the world tend to suffer the lowest life expectancy. The link between poverty and unemployment, and social problems such as violence, drug-taking, suicide and obesity is strong. Weak economies also struggle to fund the healthcare and social services to tackle these issues.
If lockdowns genuinely worked to save lives, then maybe these economic sacrifices could be justified in the short term. Yet the evidence for this proposition is also weak. Whilst every death is a tragedy, in the UK, the average age of a Covid victim has been 82 – higher than average life expectancy. With a strong link between the presence of comorbidities and Covid mortality, it is probable Covid only acted as a proximate, not underlying cause, for many of these fatalities.
What is known is that lockdown led to a vast surge in excess deaths at home, with an additional 30,000 occurring in England and Wales. Such was the fear the Government stoked, many skipped cancer or stroke check-ups that could have saved their lives – leaving many hospitals largely empty. Unfortunately, due to the progression of these undiagnosed illnesses, this trend is likely to continue into next year. ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, sacrifice lives’ will probably prove to be a more accurate slogan in hindsight.
So, whilst a vaccine is genuinely welcome, it is essential lockdowns are still resisted. Indeed, it is precisely the discovery of a vaccine that is now being used by some to call for further lockdown, even as a clear exit plan is now available. Yet, inoculating enough of the population to acquire herd immunity will take at least a year, and that is in the optimistic scenario where the State carries out the job efficiently. The damage caused through repeating these restrictions for another year would be incommensurably bad; seeing the end in sight won’t be enough if we shoot ourselves in the foot before we can get there.