Doctor: The side effects of the lockdown cure for Covid could be worse than the disease itself
There is no doubt that lockdowns over the past year have temporarily controlled surges of Covid 19 infection which were threatening to overwhelm our hospitals.
They also have seemed a reasonable strategy as a sort of holding operation until mass vaccination comes to the rescue. However has their prolonged use and relentless application been justified?
Both politicians and I’m afraid the “media doctors” have given the impression that lockdown can be applied with impunity but in medicine all treatments (even humble paracetamol) have side effects or unintended consequences and doctors must always ensure that the risk-benefit ratio is favourable. For example, penicillin dramatically reduces deaths from pneumonia but it also results in 500 deaths per year in the USA. Its use in treating pneumonia then is, as they say, a “no brainer”.
So, have the consequences of lockdown ever been considered and weighed against its benefit? Not as far as I can tell from pronouncements from the medical “experts” we’ve all had to listen to throughout the pandemic. Gradually though, the potential scale of the impact of the government backed pandemic measures are just becoming apparent.
The British Medical Journal has recently published an assessment of just one consequence of this pandemic focused strategy which it describes as “the destabilisation of cancer services across Europe”.
It reports that 7 out of 10 people in the UK with suspected cancer symptoms were not being seen by cancer diagnostic specialists, 4 out of 10 cancer patients were having their chemotherapy delayed, 7,000 to 18,000 were at increased risk of dying and thousands of further cancer deaths could result from delayed “telescopic” diagnosis procedures, there being now a backlog of one half a million cases. These premature deaths will be spread across all age groups including children, in contrast to Covid 19 where the average age at death is over 80.
But there will be many other consequences. It is as yet unknown what the final impact will be on mental health, poverty levels, domestic violence, unemployment, debt etc. It is estimated that the 2008/9 financial crisis (likely a picnic by comparison) resulted in a million people of working age contracting chronic health problems both physical and mental.
Deaths from unemployment and poverty are often viewed as just a statistic. “Unemployment” or “Poverty” will never appear on any death certificate nor are photographs of such victims likely to appear daily in the newspapers or the 6 o’clock news but surely they are nonetheless equally important?
Remember the basic fundamentals about Covid 19. One third of infected individuals never have any symptoms. 8 out of 10 of those with symptoms have mild disease. 9 out of 10 deaths occur in those aged over 60, 6 out of 10 in those over 80.
I’m afraid there remains the distinct possibility that this will be the first pandemic where the measures that were taken had a worse outcome than the disease. • Dr Geoffrey Todd is a consultant respiratory physician
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