Considering the social etiquette and consequences of the lockdown

Reporter Henry Widdas explores the social shifts we have all experienced and examines where the "greater good" may lie in terms of health and the economy...

Tuesday, 7th April 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th April 2020, 6:16 pm
Henry Widdas at the Tesco Metro

Queuing up outside Tesco the other day, I noticed an old man behind me in a dark blue padded jacket - both had seen better days.

My first thought was: "What on earth is he doing out during the lockdown?" but I decided to just smile politely as he looked a little spooked.

He smiled back and told me he'd just been to Aldi where they were letting only four people in at a time so he had given up - after getting barbed comments from others in the queue about his not being at home.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Henry Widdas at the Tesco Metro

He'd then walked a good mile to reach the Tesco Metro where I stood.

In hindsight I should have given him my mobile number and offered to buy his shopping, after all I have plenty of spare time these days.

But instead we engaged in conspiratorial chat, both saying how we didn't believe half what the Government told us and how we wished things would go back to normal.

I later passed him inside the store - Tesco was letting 10 shoppers in at a time - and we exchanged a knowing smile, as if we were the French Resistance in occupied France.

The Covid-19 crisis has resulted in a global lockdown

But behind my smile was wavering doubt, maybe he was genuinely putting his life at risk? And was I putting him in danger sharing the time of day with him?

But despite everything, I still had lingering doubts about the lockdown, so decided to take a closer look at the statistics.

One stat that has courted controversy comes from epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, who created the highly-cited Imperial College London coronavirus model.

Prof Ferguson told Parliament the computer model projected there would be 500,000 Covid-19 victims in the UK if no action was taken to slow the virus.

That figure was downgraded to 20,000 as a result of the lockdown coming into force. A great victory, perhaps.

Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta, however, has criticised Prof Ferguson's model.

Prof Gupta led a team of researchers at Oxford in a modelling study which suggests that the virus has been invisibly spreading for at least a month earlier than suspected.

The team came to the conclusion that as many as half of the people in the United Kingdom had already been infected by Covid-19, resulting in lower projected mortality rates. Her team found the vast majority of cases developed very mild symptoms or none at all.

Dr Eran Bendavid and Dr Jay Bhattacharya, professors of medicine and public health at Stanford University, California, said projected estimates of death could be "orders of magnitude" too high.

In a Wall Street Journal Report on March 24 they said: "The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases.

"The latter rate is misleading because of selection bias in testing. The degree of bias is uncertain because available data are limited. But it could make the difference between an epidemic that kills 20,000 and one that kills two million."

And what of the frighteningly high death rates in Italy where scores of medics have died and where there are now signs of social unrest and looting under the ongoing lockdown?

Prof Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s minister of health - quoted in the Daily Telegraph - said Italy’s death rate may appear high because of how doctors recorded fatalities.

He said: “The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.

“On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity - many had two or three."

The lockdown's impact on society is also being considered by political leaders in terms of the economic downturn and expected rises in mental health issues and domestic violence.

Dr David Katz, an American physician and founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said: "I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near-total meltdown of normal life will be long-lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself."

As reported in Buzzfeed last week, Government scientists are set to be at loggerheads over where the greater good lies in terms of developing a lockdown exit stategy for the nation.

There are also questions around the reliability of the Covid-19 tests, with some alleging a high number of "false positives" and "false negatives" where the different diagnostic tests available give inaccurate results either to say the disease is present or not.

And what of the issue raised by Prof Ricciardi? How many have died worldwide "with" Covid-19 rather than "of" the disease?

And what of Sweden and Australia which are both managing to contain the disease to levels far below that of many G20 countries while schools and some businesses - as of last week - remained open.

While I wrestle with the facts, figures and conflicting opinions, I still can't help but think the lockdown is going a step too far, not just for me but for the old man of Tesco.

STAY SAFE

Government advice states that residents should only leave the house for very limited purposes:

Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible

One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household

Any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person

Travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home