Covid-19 – why the panic?

The Covid-19 story has become almost as incomprehensible as climate where science seems to have been replaced by dogma. Societies, civil liberties and economies have been ruined for a virus that is admittedly highly contagious and unpredictable, but not especially dangerous for the vast majority of the population. The UK government removed it from the list of ‘high consequences infectious diseases’ early on and very few people under 60 die from it. The average age of Covid-19 related deaths at around 82 years old is identical to average life expectancy in the Western world. Nearly all victims have serious pre-existing illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, obesity or diabetes and indeed 80% of the victims are in rich Western countries where these diseases are more prevalent than elsewhere.

The history of Covid-19 is well-known. The Chinese authorities initially denied any problem before belatedly changing their mind and in typical totalitarian fashion, locked down Wuhan to prevent the virus spreading. However, it is estimated that about 20 000 of the Wuhan population left before the lockdown and at the beginning the Chinese government were reluctant to prevent people travelling overseas. Some Chinese already infected arrived in Northern Italy where they work in textile factories, the virus spread and faced with an unknown epidemic, the Italians copied the Chinese first by confining districts, then whole cities, regions and then the whole country. Governments did not prevent Chinese visitors arriving until later and with hindsight perhaps they should have done so earlier, but viruses spread with or without border controls. The idea of closing down whole populations seemed absurd at the beginning and to many it still does, but the Italians copied the Chinese on a precautionary basis and were themselves copied by many other countries for the same reason. Those suggesting these policies in the West would have faced serious mental health questions in the past.

Statistics in many countries do indeed show total number of deaths as being higher than normal, but the extra deaths are fewer than the number of supposed deaths from Covid-19. It leads to the obvious conclusion that people are dying with Covid-19 and not always because of it. In the UK anyone dying for any reason within 28 days of being tested Covid positive is defined as dying from it and until recently, there was no time limit. Covid death figures are clearly exaggerated as the UK government accepted by reducing the official death total by 5377. The UK Office for National Statistics suggests that 23% of registered Covid-19 deaths did not involve Covid as the main cause and the fact that only 1 Doctor and no longer 2 is now required to sign the death certificate adds to the suspicion. Other statistics show that only about 17 000 people dying of Covid-19 in the UK were without previous medical conditions, a figure similar to influenza deaths over the same time period. Covid deaths are now fewer than dying from electrocutions or accidents while doing house repairs and it has even been suggested that teenagers are more likely to die putting on their trousers, presumably by falling over and killing themselves. 1500-2000 people die in France/UK every day depending on the season and about 600 000 every year, but until very recently, politicians continued with their apocalyptic speeches. It is only very recently that any kind of sense of proportion has been accepted with the official line now being that “we have to live with Covid.” Some of us have been saying this for nearly 2 years.

Another issue concerns the wildly different ways of calculating Covid deaths and there is no international agreement. In the USA different states have different methods, some countries separate deaths from influenza and other respiratory diseases from Covid whereas in the UK they are counted together. Some countries require multiple formalities on death certificates, others less so and others don’t have formal certificates. Some countries do not collect statistics or if they do, they are not reliable. In China and elsewhere the figures are too low since local officials are worried about reporting Covid deaths in case of blame from the central authorities. The figures are probably too low in poor countries where medical services are not adequate and where testing for Covid did not take place before death.

Lockdowns (or ‘house arrest’) were absolutely unknown in modern times to deal with epidemics, but were deemed necessary to prevent hospitals being overrun when this seemed a possibility as Covid-19 first spread around the world. Little was then known about the disease, but even if the initial lockdowns were perhaps justified, it became obvious that hospitals would never be overrun and it was later discovered that the virus was already declining when the first lockdowns were decided. To liberate hospital beds, stupid decisions were made to transfer older patients from hospitals to care homes where they died after spreading the disease to others. Average life expectancy is 13 months for those in care home so without intending to be callous, all that happened is the victims died a little earlier. The reality is that we all die sometime, like taxes it is one of life’s certainties and risk aversion should not be confused with the impossibility of removing risk completely. Cars kill people, but cars are not banned nor are people protected by someone with a red flag walking in front of them. Endless examples like this exist in everyday life.

It is increasingly recognised that lockdowns are a cure worse than the disease. Figures are not yet definitive and perhaps never will be, but what is certain is that putting all medical eggs in the Covid-19 basket has consequences. Concerning physical illnesses, patients have died, are dying or will die from missing medical checks, non-treatment of existing illnesses or delayed operations notably, but not exclusively from cancer. Concerning mental illnesses, there has been a big increase in suicides, drug abuse, family violence and other related mental health issues that have yet to be seen and quantified. The long-term impact of the various restrictions seems inevitable and psychological help for victims struggling to cope with difficulties has already been seen. The psychological impact for everyone from a lack of normal interaction and communication has yet to be measured, but fears of mental hospitals being overrun are very acute.

Most countries followed similar policies of curfews, lockdowns and other restrictions on movement, but countries or regions trying to live more or less normally have not suffered more than others as seen in comparisons between different States of the USA. Sweden’s approach of very limited restrictions is criticised as leading to more deaths than in some neighbouring countries, but Sweden has suffered fewer deaths proportionate to its population than most European countries. Deaths in Brazil with a similar policy to Sweden are better than in Peru with very strict lockdowns. Lockdowns do control the virus spreading short-term, but do not eliminate it and the virus returns when the lockdown ends or eased as most of the West discovered with the second, third and fourth waves accompanied by repeated lockdowns. The Australia and New Zealand response of isolation from the rest of the world accompanied by repeated lockdowns cannot be a permanent solution. The only long-term answer is collective (‘herd’) immunity just like any other virus; natural selection occurs and there is the risk of large numbers of deaths at the beginning. However, the vast majority of the population does not die and most tested positive for Covid-19 have very limited symptoms or none. “Beating the virus” is an empty slogan since viruses as molecules cannot be made to disappear even if China continues with their absurd zero Covid policies. Vaccines should be part of the answer, but hopes have partly been dashed since transmission of the virus and contagion are not controlled. However, it seems that serious form of Covid can be avoided by vaccination, but then most of the public would never be seriously worried by this virus without vaccination anyway. Effective vaccines usually take years to develop and are never 100% successful; viruses mutate into new forms as seen with the flu every year and many new forms of Covid-19 have already emerged. An approach targeting those at risk would have been better than a collective sledgehammer. The other disturbing sign concerns the number of side effects and although all vaccines have them, the numbers are high especially in the non risk groups like young people. Everyone also now agrees that the Covid vaccines do not prevent catching the virus nor spreading it to others.

The economic and social consequences are catastrophic and although the world seems to be emerging from the most serious recession since 1929, there remains the extra public debt which will not disappear. As the WHO now state in their advice against lockdowns and as common sense suggests, poorer countries suffer far more than the richer. Everywhere, future spending on health and associated social services will be much less than planned since huge resources have been spent on one disease at the expense of all others like cancers which are much more serious and affect far more people. The World Bank estimate that 150 million more people will be living in absolute poverty as a consequence of lockdowns thereby doubling the previous numbers in that category.

The obvious question is why the collective panic and various theories exist:

  1. under a new global ‘reset,’ world government replaces national governments with all medical decisions made by the WHO with citizens tracked and traced on smartphones.
  2. another idea suggests that over precautious politicians are frightened of health litigation claims by those falling ill or their families if they die.
  3. there is the suggestion that governments are acting under the pressure from ‘big pharma’ lobbying researching a vaccine rather than using cheap existing drugs; when government advisors have major financial interests in pharmaceutical companies, it hardly inspires confidence in their independent advice.
  4. another theory suggests a Chinese government plot who want to see Western capitalism paralysed. The Chinese do have a strategy for world economic domination and make no attempt to hide their ambitions, but if the consequence is Western economic collapse, the Chinese are faced with ruined export markets and probably no Chinese tourists travelling internationally. In any case at the moment, it is the Chinese economy which is in difficulties from Covid much more than other countries as seen by the attempts at zero Covid in Shanghai and elsewhere.
  5. Some politicians seem to have become power hungry and drugged by their ability to control everyone’s lives as seen in totalitarian systems. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a very well-known expression and this power trip has extended to some of the general public who contact the authorities about people not wearing face masks or breaking other rules.

Perhaps a mix of all the above reasons explain the situation over the last 2 years, but those who questioned Covid policies were accused of conspiracy theories and have been treated, like in the climate debate, as either dangerous fanatics or mad. Social network censorship existed for those suggesting the virus escaped from the Wuhan laboratory deliberately or accidentally and not from transmission by bats. This censorship has been lifted for the moment, but as in climate, challenging the consensus is not welcomed. Even mentioning the Chinese origin is or perhaps was considered racist by some.

Civil liberty consequences have been absolutely catastrophic with enormous restrictions on ordinary daily life. The rules were changed, modified and reversed at breath-taking speed. Mask wearing has been variously described as useless, then useful, important, essential and then obligatory, but masks get dirty in pockets or bags. The idea that masks prevent infection on windswept beaches is medically ludicrous or indeed outdoors in general as is now admitted. Many doctors suggest that all that is required is for people to wash their hands adequately and frequently and avoid coughing and sneezing over each other. Drones and helicopters were used to check public mask wearing and social distancing, but the medical profession itself is divided on the utility of these rules. Peaceful protest has been criminalized and Doctors lost their right to exercise or arrested for giving their medical opinions in public.

Testing for the Covid-19 virus is unreliable with large numbers of false positives or negatives if done by laboratories and even more with self-testing. Any negative result (even if accurate) cannot prevent catching the virus the next day. Many politicians seem to be out of touch with reality claiming to rely on the ‘science’ about the predicted number of deaths, especially models from Imperial College London that have been proved completely wrong in the past concerning other supposedly catastrophic epidemics. In worst case scenario models, mad cow disease was predicted to kill 150 000 in the UK and it killed 177 people. 150 million were said to be at risk from bird flu and the total deaths were 282; swine flu UK estimates suggested 65000 potential deaths and it killed 457. The scandal is why is anyone taking any notice from the same people? The stupid models continue right up to today with ludicrous figures about the dangers of the Omicron variant. Fortunately politicians are beginning to break free from medical scaremongering, but it has taken too long.

Eminent medical experts were and still are threatened with disciplinary action if they treat their patients with more than simple paracetamol and some governments seem to have a vendetta against various Doctors who do not subscribe to official ideas about Covid-19. In France it was decided that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) would only be available with a medical prescription despite being freely available for many years and it was then banned completely as potentially dangerous, a decision following a nonsense article in The Lancet that was withdrawn by the authors when checked. (The obvious point about checking before publishing hardly needs to be made.) The WHO having originally recommended that this drug be withdrawn for the reasons in the article then changed their mind and describing HCQ as dangerous when it has already been used to treat 3 billion (not million) patients worldwide is difficult to understand. (Unofficially, many Doctors take HCQ themselves.) It is hardly surprising conspiracy theories exist when alternative treatments such as ivermectin, vitamin D or zinc are neglected or even forbidden with everything said to depend on vaccines.

If the world is to return to normality, the public must be allowed to live normally and this does not mean living 2 metres from each other nor wearing masks everywhere. Covid rules are increasingly difficult to enforce and public opposition is growing with civil disobedience as shown in ‘liberty convoys’ and blocages internationally. In poorer countries, enforcement is more complicated and dictatorships just tell people what to do. The public is muzzled not just physically, but increasingly mentally with many people behaving like proverbial sheep or zombies, incapable or unwilling to question the rules. The will to work has declined because of financial support from governments that has to end one day and also for psychological reasons about going outside and the supposed risk of meeting other people. Some people are frightened to leave home without considering that the risks of catching this virus outdoors is less than inside their homes. Also, passing life locked away is not what many of us feel life should be about.

For 2 years, the media and politicians emphasised the crisis barely distinguishing between those tested positive with those dying. If millions of people are tested, then more will be found positive than if few are tested; it’s not rocket science as the expression goes and the only relevant factors should be hospital admissions and deaths directly from this virus which are not that much worse than a bad flu season. Around 60 million people die in the world every year and the current Covid-19 figure is 6,3 million after nearly 2,5 years out of a world population of nearly 8 billion.

Nobody is suggesting that the Covid-19 virus is unimportant, but it is not the Spanish flu of 1918 which killed 50 million people when the world population was less than 2 billion and which infected 25% of that population. It is even less the Black Death which killed between one third and one half of the population in about 3 years in the 14th century. Covid-19 is a serious challenge, but a sense of proportion is required. Many governments have not shown it It is true that the epidemic is not finished and unfortunately more will die, but there is no reason to believe that Covid-19 will suddenly kill hundreds of millions since the profile of existing victims is well-established. Of course it is easy to be wise after the event, but the relative lack of danger for most people was well-known within a few weeks of the virus spreading around the world.

Lockdowns and other restrictions on civil liberties have not been proven to be effective and cannot be a permanent feature of everyday life in view of the associated economic and health costs. Over much attention has been given to this virus at the expense of other illnesses and for the sake of everyone’s future sanity, this issue must be dealt with quickly and intelligently with a return to a sense of proportion, real science and ordinary common sense. Public health policy should be based on encouraging vulnerable groups to take extra precautions by perhaps self-isolating, by allowing Doctors to prescribe treatments other than paracetamol and by encouraging basic measures of personal hygiene for everyone else to get on with their lives as before the arrival of this societal nightmare.

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