Mental Health consequences of lockdown are absolutely no reason to limit COVID related restrictions.
I have been wanting to write something for a few weeks in response to what I keep seeing as spurious arguments against the escalation of COVID restrictions in Victoria, and around the world, which use “mental health” as a reason to suggest we should not be increasing social restrictions.
As I understand it, the argument goes that the mental health consequences of the damage to the economy, job losses, unemployment and social dislocation resulting from enforced economic and social lockdown will exceed the impact of COVID infections themselves. Suicide rates will rise and the resultant loss of life may exceed that associated with COVID related deaths, or at least mitigate the reductions in death we achieve through tighter restrictions.
I think this is just a somewhat more complex extension of the binary argument that has been presented now for several months: that we have a simple choice. We shut down the economy to fight the virus with harsh economic consequences (and effects on mental health) or we do the opposite to support the economy at a cost to physical health / higher rates of viral infection and COVID deaths.
This is a completely false choice.
The Prime Minister gathered all his expert advisors around him. He had just been told that finally a vaccine was available for the terrible disease that afflicted the country. But there were not enough doses for everyone: what was he to do?
“Vaccinate the doctors first, we have to treat all the patients” said his chief medical officer.
“Vaccinate all the epidemiologists first, you need us to understand the disease” said his top public health officer.
“Vaccinate all the economists first, without us you won’t be able to understand the financial problems this disease is causing” said the head of the Treasury.
“What about the factory workers”: said the Industry head, “without them we wont be able to make anything”.
“STOP” shouted the PM, exasperated and at his wits end. What do you think he said to the junior aid who was trying to avoid his gaze. “What would you do?”
“I…I..” stammered the aid. “I don’t want it, I don’t care who you give it too first, I am not a fool — I have read about these things on the internet — these vaccines, they do more harm than good”.
The PM pondered this for a while and then commanded. “Find everyone who doesn’t want to be vaccinated. Find a way to persuade them to have it: they are the ones we need to have vaccinated first”
So I think pretty much everyone sees the development of an effective vaccine as the way we get out of the predicament of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you are for locking down for the long term, graded reopening or want to open the economy and damn the health consequences, I think pretty much everyone now accepts we don’t get back to a world that resembles anything like the one we all used to know without an effective vaccine. Sure some places, New Zealand being the outstanding example, have effectively eliminated the virus for periods of time. But for how long can countries remain isolated. Like personal isolation this will eventually take its toll: on the economy and on the individual desires and freedoms of the population. This is not a long term future we desire.
There is fortunately, a remarkable effort going on around the world to develop an effective and safe vaccine. In fact, given the number of competitive development programs it is quite feasible that we might end up with more than one, and possibly even quite a number of useful vaccines. It is sobering to realise that we haven’t ever successfully developed a vaccine in less than 5 years before — imagine what it would be like living in a COVID prevalent world for half of the next decade — but the intensity and breadth of the vaccine efforts at the moment gives me optimism that we won’t just beat, but will obliterate, this record.