The debate on total lockdowns is based on wrong assumptions

Lockdown effects can become even worse due to the total lack of a clear exit strategy. MCO time will be wasted time if more investments to strengthen the healthcare system are not put in place.

Centre for Market Education

ANOTHER ping-pong discussion between different institutions (Selangor and federal governments) and within the same institution (Selangor government) is centred on the possibility to impose, nationally or state-wide, a full-scale lockdown, similar to that imposed at the beginning of the pandemic, and which caused a huge harm to many perspectives of livelihoods nationwide without “breaking the chain of infections”.

No more than two days ago, Tengku Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said that a total lockdown will be avoided for the sake of employment, but yesterday the Selangor government, after an initial denial, declared itself open to accept the possibility.

Furthermore, the dichotomy between lives and livelihoods is emerging again, with the narrative that lives have to be given priority over livelihoods.

“As declared on several other occasions the debate is flawed from many perspectives,” said Carmelo Ferlito, CEO of the Centre for Market Education (CME).

The organisation highlights the following critical points:

  1. The debate is based on one fundamental assumption: a lockdowns can stop the virus spread and therefore it makes sense to sacrifice something for a greater good. All the other issues – livelihoods or SOPs – directly derive from this very basic assumption. However, unfortunately, it has been demonstrated by tens of scientific papers (and by simple statistical observation) that lockdowns do not work, they just delay the problem, at the very best.
  2. No Western country has defeated Covid-19 with lockdowns. They tried and failed. China also never locked down the entire country (the Wuhan region represents 4% of China GDP). When the Chinese lockdown was extended to regions like the Jilin province, protests emerged because of the sudden lack of basic items such as food (central planning always fails).
  3. Lockdown effects can become even worse due to the total lack of a clear exit strategy. MCO time will be wasted time if more investments to strengthen the healthcare system are not put in place.
  4. The distinction between lives and livelihoods is misleading: harming livelihoods means, ultimately, to harm lives because of increasing poverty, stress and mental health.
  5. Stay-at-home orders undermine the physical conditions of individuals, by forcing them to an unhealthy lifestyle. It is very likely that the surge in Covid-19 in Malaysia is, at least partially, due to immune systems that have been compromised by lockdown effects such as lack of mobility and mental stress. Lack of mobility, furthermore, increases the risk of obesity, bringing higher risk of mortality for cardiovascular diseases (which are the highest cause of death among Malaysians).
  6. The new consideration about shutting down “non-essential business” ignores, once again, that all businesses are essential to bring food to the mouth of those who own or work for that businesses. Tengku Zafrul admitted to this few months ago.

The CME, which is working on a policy paper indicating a comprehensive management and exit strategy for Covid-19, invites the government to consider the following preliminary points:

  1. The pace of the vaccination programme needs to accelerate.
  2. Given that it is unlikely the vaccination programme will be completed at speed, the best strategy now is to step up mass and frequent testing, aiming to give back lives to the people and to test each worker and each student on a weekly basis; this would allow early detection and more effective treatment.
  3. By avoiding lockdowns, the economy can restart and resources can be created to be invested in strengthening the healthcare system. In particular, the following things are needed:
  • temporary hospital beds
  • intensive care units.
  • territorial healthcare strategies to handle mild cases from home and therefore avoiding hospital clusters.
  1. Research for more effective treatments.
  2. Better data collection for risk assessment. This includes better data with regard to clusters: if, for example, we say that 70% of the cases are from workplaces but 70% of the tests have been done in workplaces, this means that workplaces are “normally” dangerous. We need more data about:
  • the relationship between tests, cases and deaths
  • age, gender, race and medical conditions of severe cases and deaths.

“Finally, a new leadership seems very much necessary to handle the situation,” said Ferlito.

“Parliament should reconvene in order to decide the way forward and to call for the creation of an appropriate task force free from political influence.” – May 20, 2021.