By Jemy Gatdula
As the song goes, a guy (the part sung by English-Jamaican singer RikRok) was caught cheating by his girlfriend. Despondent, he went to Jamaican-American reggae artist Shaggy for advice. The latter gave his version of “wisdom”: Deny everything. Regardless of facts and logic. Just repeatedly say: “It wasn’t me.” That song became one of the highest selling singles of 2000.
Unfortunately, the World Health Organization (WHO) seems to have taken Shaggy’s advice to heart.
Just last week, the WHO’s Special Envoy on COVID-19 David Nabarro said in an interview: “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” adding that “lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”
Of course, lockdown supporters (writer Alex Berenson aptly calls them “Team Apocalypse”) tried to defend the WHO’s inconsistency. And yet, the WHO, particularly through its Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, could be seen from April to June repeatedly encouraging countries to continue with their lockdowns and actually blamed countries that decided to lift lockdown restrictions for rising COVID-19 cases.
But all the flip-flopping, followed by attempts to dish off blame on someone else, is par for the course for the WHO this COVID-19 season: last February it mistakenly called out countries that wanted to issue travel bans on travelers from China; from March to early June the WHO correctly advised the public not to wear masks, only to reverse itself afterwards.
Nevertheless, Dr. Nabarro is right about lockdowns: “Look what’s happened to smallholder farmers all over the world. Look what’s happening to poverty levels. It seems that we may well have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition.”
Our own data has been saying this all along. As an example, take the snapshot as of Sept. 10 (23 days after the lifting of the Aug. 4-18 Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine or MECQ, the second strictest level of quarantine).
Were hospitals prevented from being overwhelmed? Were benefits attained? But if one looks at the NCR numbers for Aug. 4 (1st day of MECQ), there were 1,360 ward beds occupied and 413 occupied ICU beds. By the last day of the MECQ (Aug. 18), instead of a reduction, there were 1,377 ward beds occupied (an increase of 17 new patients) and 446 ICU beds (and increase of 33 patients). [*One should ignore the percentages stated in the Department of Health updates, as the total number of available beds changed several times. Instead look at the actual number of beds occupied.]
Even allowing for time lag for incubation, by Sept. 1, there were 1,314 ward beds occupied (a mere decrease of 4.6%) and 445 ICU beds. But note, as of Sept. 10, as mentioned 23 days after lifting of the MECQ (and even allowing for a 12-14 day COVID-19 incubation period), for which pro-lockdown people were openly seen hoping for an upsurge in cases, instead there were only 1,235 beds occupied (a decrease of 10%) and 436 ICU (a decrease of 10 patients). The point is that the MECQ made no difference in the number of patients infected and needing to be hospitalized. In fact, if one looks at Aug. 18, there was a 40% increase in active cases during the 14 day MECQ but only a 9.6% increase in the 23 days after the lifting of the MECQ.
Lockdowns simply don’t work. One would think that people living in the world’s longest lockdown would know that.
The clincher, the proof that even pro-lockdown supporters don’t really believe in “following the science” was their increasingly hostile reaction when a number of renowned epidemiologists finally said “enough!”
Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, PhD, Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya, PhD, and Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta, PhD, came out this October with the Great Barrington Declaration, saying that “lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health.” These experts instead recommended that:
Schools and universities should open for in-person teaching.
Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should resume.
Restaurants and other businesses should open.
Arts, music, and other cultural activities should resume.
The young and those not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal.
Practice simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick.
Emphatically, these are not the products of hindsight. Medical and economic experts, and particularly this column have been saying the same things as far back as April.
Interestingly, Dr. Kulldorff even pointed out (in an interview with Spike on Oct. 9) that contract tracing “doesn’t work for COVID if it has already spread in the population.” Again, something this column pointed out back in May (“Thoughts in a triple lockdown”).
Perhaps the WHO should have listened more closely to RikRok. In the end, he wisely tells Shaggy that repeatedly saying “it wasn’t me” actually “makes no sense at all.”
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.