Why haven’t lockdowns worked? There are broadly two types of respiratory virus. There are those that spread person to person – like measles – in a continuous chain of transmission, uninterrupted by season and with every susceptible contact falling ill. Then there are those we do not understand so well, like influenza, which are much more complex. Instead of the simplistic close contact model, which assumes Covid spreads like measles, we should perhaps consider an alternative more sophisticated model based on influenza. The influenza virus model is unusual – it is predicated on the majority being exposed to a particular airborne virus but, oddly, only a minority appear to be susceptible to each year’s variant. To complicate matters further, influenza can also spread person to person.
The harmful consequences of public health choices should be explicitly considered and transparently reported to limit their damage, say Itai Bavli and colleagues
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge for governments. Questions regarding the most effective interventions to reduce the spread of the virus—for example, more testing, requirements to wear face masks, and stricter and longer lockdowns—become widely discussed in the popular and scientific press, informed largely by models that aimed to predict the health benefits of proposed interventions. Central to all these studies is recognition that inaction, or delayed action, will put millions of people unnecessarily at risk of serious illness or death.
However, interventions to limit the spread of the coronavirus also carry negative health effects, which have yet to be considered systematically. Despite increasing evidence on the unintended, adverse effects of public health interventions such as social distancing and lockdown measures, there are few signs that policy decisions are being informed by a serious assessment and weighing of their harms on health. Instead, much of the discussion has become politicised, especially in the US, where President Trump’s provocative statements sparked debates along party lines about the necessity for policies to control covid-19. This politicisation, often fuelled by misinformation, has distracted from a much needed dispassionate discussion on the harms and benefits of potential public health measures against covid-19.
Hailed as a model at the beginning of the pandemic, the world’s longest lockdown has not saved Argentina from coronavirus misery as cases and daily deaths continue to skyrocket.