Have you noticed how the same managerial classes who had until yesterday been extolling the virtues of open borders and mass migration have switched gear in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? All of a sudden the same experts and pundits who claim to favour a melting pot of all peoples with an integrated world economy expect all responsible governments to restrict our freedom of movement around our neighbourhoods. This means following the Chinese and Italian examples by closing schools, sports centres, offices and other public venues and only allowing authorised workers to cross cordons sanitaires with heavy penalties for transgressors. Such draconian measures can only be effective with a compliant populace and a militarised police force.
Don’t get me wrong. All early deaths from preventable illnesses are a tragedy. Every day over 3000 human beings die of tuberculosis, over 2400 of hepatitis B, over 2200 of pneumonia, over 2100 of HIV/AIDs, over 2000 of malaria, over 1600 of shigellosis, over 1200 of rotovirus, over 1000 of seasonal flu, over 500 of novovirus, over 400 of whooping cough, nearly 400 of typhoid and a similar number of cholera. So far this year 5547 people have died of a mutant strand of coronavirus out of a world population of around 7.8 billion. Coronavirus is an umbrella term for any of a group of RNA viruses that cause upper respiratory tract disease. Previous outbreaks were known as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), but most types of influenza and the common cold are caused by rhinoviruses.
What’s so scary about COVID-19 with a death rate estimated varying from a low 0.7%, based on the projected infection rate, to a high of 5%, based on the initial outbreak? As of 14 March 2020, in the UK only 26 thousand have been tested and even in Italy with the highest coronavirus mortality rate in the world, only 60 thousand have been tested out of a population of over 60 million. In all likelihood the authorities have seriously underestimated the total number of infected persons with suppressed or mild symptoms, but able to nonetheless to transmit the contagion, while highlighting the number of fatalities, which even in the worst-hit regions are a tiny fraction of all deaths. In Italy, now with over 1800 coronavirus-related fatalities, the average age of death is just over 80 with the vast majority of deaths affecting people over 70. Italy has one of the world’s most advanced health services and highest life expectancies.
Let’s get things into perspective. The three biggest factors that contribute to a longer life span are sanitation, diet and lifestyle. If you keep clean, but not obsessively so you develop natural resistance to pathogens, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, again without overdoing it, you may now easily live into your 80s, only resorting occasionally to medications such as painkillers and antibiotics. Vaccines work in theory by giving you a small dose of a potentially lethal disease in the hope your body will develop long-term immunity. Likewise before the introduction of measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, children were encouraged to catch these diseases before puberty to gain lifelong immunity. By the late 1960s the measles-related mortality rate had already fallen dramatically. It’s worth remembering that until the slum clearances of the early 1960s millions of people across the British Isles had to make do with outside toilets and only a washbasin instead of a bath and/or shower. Many would visit their local public baths, not to swim, but to wash their bodies. Being confined to a squalid dwelling is not good for your health. Believe it or not, exploring the great outdoors and swimming in unpolluted lakes and rivers is much better for your health. Anecdotally I recall my father claiming he was not allowed more than 4” (10cm) of water in his bath as a child in the 1940s to stop me using more than my fair share of our limited hot water supply during the 1974 energy crisis and coal miners’ strike. Now we no longer have weekly baths, but daily showers. Of course, we still catch the common cold and seasonal flu. However, vaccines have proven a blunt tool against these pervasive contagions, as they can only provide temporary immunity against specific strains. Vaccines adhere to the law of diminishing returns. A few well-targeted vaccines can boost your immune system and save lives. Herd immunity works by ensuring most healthy people have antibodies to fight viruses and bad bacteria (good bacteria are key to our digestive and immune systems) and thus not pass on these diseases to the frail with weak immune systems who would not respond well either to vaccines or the live pathogen. We have become so terrified of germs that we do not want to risk letting our immune systems adapt to constantly evolving infections as we have done rather successfully. Laboratories in China, Germany, Israel and Scotland are working on a vaccine. However, as Aaron Colen uncovered in the Blaze, the most frightening aspect of COVID-19 is its high reinfection rate among those who have recovered, meaning our immune systems may not respond to the virus and a potential vaccine may not protect against subsequent infections or may have severe adverse effects in otherwise healthy individuals.
The Medical Managerial Classes
Two schools of thought dominate the public discourse. One, supported by many leading virologists such as Prof. Karol Sikora and Dr Ranjeet Brar, favours pragmatic steps to improve personal hygiene and protect the vulnerable, but not to panic unduly. If the virus has a long incubation period and many healthy people experience few symptoms that could not easily be attributed to other common transient ailments, then COVID-19 is probably already spreading through the general population. Our focus should thus be on protecting those most at risk. The other approach, favoured by international health agencies, many opinion leaders and healthcare managers, calls for an Italian-style lockdown with schools, colleges, pubs, bars, restaurants and sports centres closed, controlled access to shops to avoid panic buying and limit social contact. While such drastic measures may slow the spread among the general population, they cannot disinfect those who have already caught it, or help the frail and elderly who do not need to work and can more easily stay at home. Moreover, young people crave social contact and will inevitably find ways to meet up with their friends. The health effects of sitting at home glued to computer screens for weeks on end may be much worse than the ill-effects of the virus itself. Obesity, diabetes and, narcotic abuse, associated with sedentary lifestyles in small rooms, are much bigger killers than coronavirus in Wuhan or Lombardy. And who is going to look after school-age children in an era where either both parents work or children only have one parent or carer at home? Many key service workers such as nurses, doctors, plumbers, electricians and cleaners to name but a few, are also parents who may have to choose between staying at home to look after their children or providing services critical for public health. If self-employed plumbers cannot enter premises without special permits or additional health and safety checks, leaks will go unfixed. Without clean water and reliable electricity, we could see a rapid spike in other infectious diseases.
The managerial classes, often posing on the radical left, believe we cannot cope without their endless busy-body intervention. Should we really forgo hard-earned civil liberties in the name of public safety? It is with great sadness that much of the left has thrown its rhetorical weight behind the usual suspects, such as Hillary Clinton and Gordon Brown, calling for a complete lockdown with the police empowered to arrest transgressors. Only a few months ago the same technocrats wanted us to welcome open borders. Now they want us to stay indoors. The same actors support clamping down on free speech, while scaring us into accepting mandatory surveillance, probably under the guise of remote medical supervision via smart watches or RFID chips.