We need the current argument between Westminster and Manchester on the best strategy to tackle coronavirus. The issues involved need wider informed debate than has so far been allowed. Both government and science should accept challenge, and refine policy accordingly.
We are told that policy is science-led and evidence-based. But extensive use continues to be made of blunt lockdown and furlough measures, without scientific evidence of their efficacy. These are both clearly extremely harmful in themselves. Here is an evidence-based case for the superiority of infection control, testing, and shielding.
1. Infection control works
After extensive mortality in March-May, UK care homes have reduced both infection and excess mortality rates to zero.
This has been achieved through rigorous infection control procedures. Note that the initial increased mortality affected all elderly people, not just those in care homes.
2. Lockdown doesn’t work
In the 4 months following the March-May lockdown, mortality did not increase.
Greater Manchester leaders claim that areas currently under lockdown have soaring infection rates.
3. The second wave is less deadly
We now see a huge increase in infection, but low mortality. In March-May, mortality was significant and occurred in the same time frame as infection. This is not the case in the second wave. Infections are in less vulnerable younger groups.
It is possible that this is due to careful shielding of vulnerable people, particularly those in care homes.
4. Excess mortality is not occurring in the current outbreak of infection
Whilst the daily death rate has risen, as shown above, excess mortality has not occurred. This may be because, whilst Covid-19 may be noted on a death certificate, this is not necessarily the cause of death in frequent cases of co-morbidity in elderly people.
There is therefore sufficient evidence to justify a case for relying on rigorous hygiene and testing for all, together with shielding of vulnerable elderly people, rather than resorting to lockdown and furlough schemes. The majority of people subjected to lockdown are not infected. Testing would avoid this universal lockdown. It would also avoid the huge cost to the economy of furloughing all staff, regardless of whether they are infected or not.
We need to do better. Germany today records a cumulative 119 deaths per million population whilst the UK figure is 649, ie 5½ times greater.
We urgently need wider energised debate where government ministers and their medical and scientific advisers respond to challenges to their blunt ineffective strategies.
* Geoff Crocker is a professional economist writing on technology at http://www.philosophyoftechnology.com and on basic income at www.ubi.org. His recent book ‘Basic Income and Sovereign Money – the alternative to economic crisis and austerity policy’ was recommended by Martin Wolf in the FT 2020 summer reading list.