I am starting to see a lot of grumbling from people who say that with this disease, lockdowns will only increase the long-term death rate because they delay herd immunity.
The argument goes like this:
- Covid-19 is far more dangerous to the old and sick than to the young and healthy; yes it does kill some young, healthy people, but not very many
- Short of a vaccine the best way to control the disease would be to expose millions of comparatively young, healthy people to it until half or so of the population is resistant, which would probably be enough to greatly slow its spread
- Lockdowns keep this from happening, because most of the people they keep home are comparatively young and healthy
- The effect is to lower the rate of infection but extend its lifetime; this flattening of the curve raises the overall death rate by keeping the disease at a pandemic level longer, so that more older, sicker people end up being exposed
I have no idea if this is true. The sad toll of the disease in nursing homes shows one problem, which is that many of the old and sick are being cared for by younger, healthier people, and surely raising the infection rate among nursing home workers would end up killing lots of patients. I have a feeling that some of the people pushing to end lockdowns don't regard that as a bad thing, which bothers me.
Another point is that experiments with antiviral drugs are going on around the world, and remdesivir has already shown some promise, so delaying the disease might allow better therapies to be developed. That would also make the issue of hospital space more important, since we would have useful interventions to employ.
Anyway we have an experiment along these lines going in Sweden, where they have encouraged the vulnerable to self-isolate while letting the rest continue working. So we may end up finding out which approach saves more lives in the end.
As we re-open society it seems inevitable to me that vulnerable people will have to take extra measures to protect themselves. I see a lot in the news about the need for more testing and so on but I wonder if what we really need to put in place are measures to deliver vital supplies to elderly and immuno-compromised people, so they can stay safe while the disease spreads among healthier people going back to work.