Saturday, 6 August 2022

Condemning the Pandemic Response Because It Hurt People

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:8-9

I started writing this piece in mid 2021, but put it down and decided not to publish it because I focused on a book that I have co-written with a friend. However, I decided to dust off this piece and publish it because we can’t let the incredible harm done by the leaders of our nation just go softly into the night. Lockdowns were harmful, the covid pandemic response was harmful, and there needs to be an account of this. What inspired me to publish his piece is the crazy high excess mortality rate: 16.8% this year in Australia[1], with similar numbers observed in the United Kingdom, and this trend is being observed all over the world. These numbers are not getting the air-time they deserve, and so we should publish them far and wide. But there is another reason to publish this: many of our leaders will claim they could not have known. But this is a lie, they could have, because the data showed this was happening some time ago. It was also eminently predictable and predicted by many in the medical profession, for example the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration.[2] So, continued and concerted public pressure needs to be put on those who mandated these lockdowns and mandates.

But before we do, let me ask you, how are you going out there right now? I am not just asking this in a flippant way, I ask this as a pastor who knows that people are struggling, that people are tired, that people are exasperated. Yes, we have some relief now because the rolling lockdowns appear to be finally ended, but still people bear the scars of the lockdowns, the mandates and now also the rushed medications. I also ask this as someone who is keenly aware of the side effects of these long and torturous lockdowns.

This Sydney Morning Herald headline should grab all of us and shake is out of our complacency: “More than 40 NSW children and teenagers rushed to hospital for self-harm every day.”[3] Then there is this devastating opening sentence: “The COVID-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdown are severely damaging the mental health of young people in NSW, with emergency department visits for self-harm and suicidal ideation up 31 per cent for children and teenagers compared with last year.”[4] I know people who have attended funerals of people who have died by suicide because of these lockdowns. It is devastating. This article goes on to say that these lockdowns were necessary, despite their cost. But was this true?

Amongst those reading this piece I know there will be people in different camps when it comes to lockdowns. Some think that they were good. They work at home on their laptops anyway, and can order whatever they need. So what was the big deal? Many believed that they were bad but necessary because this is what the science told us to do. And then there are those of us who knew they were both unnecessary and dangerous[5]. There are many people who have their mind made up on this issue, but for the sake of posterity it needs to be recorded just how badly misguided these lockdowns and mandates were. This needs to be in writing.   

Firstly, there is no such thing as “the science”. Science is the method or discipline structured around continually receiving updated data and debate about that data in the context of community. Hence, saying “the science” is a non-scientific statement. Only the scientist can speak, science can’t, and he can only do so from data, the method with which it was collected and analyzed makes all the difference. Indeed, before lockdowns were used there was no conclusive scientific data on whether they were good, because until the experiment is done, we cannot know what the data may indicate And the unscientific way in which these decisions were made is now coming more and more into light, as this article shows: NEW INFORMATION SHOWS CANADA’S BAN ON UNVACCINATED TRAVELERS IS BASED ON POLITICS, NOT SCIENCE.[6] So, to say that lockdowns were based on science is just not accurate, in any way. At the very best you can say they were based on the opinions of people whose expertise is doing science. But this is not the same thing.  

Secondly, here’s what the data collected by many scientists points: Lockdowns didn’t work, and were not necessary. A year ago many Aussies would have found this hard to believe, but even left leaning commentators are recognizing that the experience of Sydney and Melbourne shows that they don’t work; “Finally, the age of lockdowns is over: The age of lockdown is over. Too bad, we’ve only worked that out while millions of Australians are still stuck in lockdown,” writes Joe Hilderbrand.[7] This is not just one commentator’s opinion, or my opinion, this is the conclusion of Dr. Eran Bendavid[8], Dr. Christopher Oh[9]; Dr. Jay Bhattacharya[10]; and Dr. John P. A. Ioannidis[11] all of Stanford University,[12] among many more. The scientific data is NOW in, and it shows we screwed up, massively.

These researchers did an analysis of the most restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions (mrNPI’s), verse the least restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions (lrNPI’s). In other words they studied the effects and results of one of the largest experiments ever undertaken in the world, planet-wide population lockdowns. What did they find?

“While small benefits cannot be excluded, we do not find significant benefits on case growth of more restrictive NPIs. Similar reductions in case growth may be achievable with less‐restrictive interventions…

…Because of the potential harmful health effects of mrNPI—including hunger,2 opioid‐related overdoses, missed vaccinations, increase in non‐COVID diseases from missed health services, domestic abuse, mental health and suicidality, and a host of economic consequences with health implications—it is increasingly recognized that their postulated benefits deserve careful study…

…In the framework of this analysis, there is no evidence that more restrictive nonpharmaceutical interventions (‘lockdowns’) contributed substantially to bending the curve of new cases in England, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain or the United States in early 2020…

NPIs can also have harms, besides any questionable benefits, and the harms may be more prominent for some NPIs than for others. For example, school closures may have very serious harms, estimated at an equivalent of 5.5 million life years for children in the United States during the spring school closures alone. Considerations of harms should play a prominent role in policy decisions, especially if an NPI is ineffective at reducing the spread of infections. Of note, Sweden did not close primary schools throughout 2020 as of this writing.”[13],[14]

So, as I said you cannot say “the science says” and still be scientific, but you can say after analyzing the results of the biggest experiment in the world, that the data collected by scientists points to lockdowns being unnecessary and worse than the virus itself. The skyrocketing case numbers in Australia really drive this point home. At best they just delayed in the inevitable, at great cost to every other aspect of our society and economy. They were a fools errand all along.  

The data these experts analyzed was so thorough and supported by so many other researchers (see for yourself here) showing that the weight of the scientific evidence was strongly against lockdowns, I thought back in February 2021 that we were past them for good. Indeed, so did Queensland’s Chief Health Officer in March, “Brisbane residents and businesses won’t be locked down again if there’s another coronavirus outbreak in the city. Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young said authorities would lock down only the most vulnerable people in future.”[15] This is precisely what many researchers have concluded should happen, yet how many lockdowns happened after this one? And the people in Victoria were smashed, I would argue broken, by lockdowns.

One may respond, “Yeah, well I could produce scientists which say the opposite if I wanted to.” And maybe you could. But all this would indicate is that the data on the effectiveness of lockdowns is not conclusive. Think about that, if the scientists cannot agree on their effectiveness, this should give us great pause because our data on their harms is clear. We crushed people’s lives and mental health over debatable, at best, strategies. I would argue evil strategies that should never be allowed again. Our moral imperative to never lockdown so many people’s lives again remains. This is not academic either, because there are calls right now to bring back these measures[16]. But they really do hurt people. Just ask the emergency departments that had a 31 percent increase in the presentation of young people committing self-harm. Any policy which is at best unclear on its positives but has such drastic negatives should be backed away from.  

However, there are people who were not badly effected by these lockdown and whose situation may have even improved, whether financially or socially. These people may not really care, or simply may just have a lukewarm response to speaking up about the harms. It is becoming increasingly imperative to lay out just what people were supporting when they stayed silent or spoke up in support of lockdowns or mandates. So, what I am going to do here is give you some data about the damage of these lockdowns but mixed it in with individual stories as well. You have to know how these lockdowns hurt people, and once you know, it is incumbent on you to speak against them ever happening again. If you are a Christian, you are not permitted to remain silent,  

“8 Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Let me begin by telling you about Andy Steels, who “tested negative on two occasions for Covid-19, despite developing a chesty cough around the same time the pandemic was taking its grip on the UK.” It turned out that he had lung cancer. He died the day after his 54th birthday, because his cancer diagnosis was missed because of the lockdowns, and the shutting down of normal healthcare. He was one of as many as 50,000 people at that time (many more now) who missed a cancer diagnosis in the US. Each one of those people has a name, and a family.[17] Andy is not an anomaly, what happened to him happened to thousands of people, but could this happen in Australia?

Absolutely, in NSW in 2021, during lockdown, breast cancer screening was on hold for some time, 

“Breast cancer screening appointments are now being suspended across all of NSW as staff are redeployed to assist with the pandemic response. Last week reported appointments were being cancelled in Sydney, but it is now occurring statewide. But there are concerns these routine screenings could cause a delay in cancer diagnosis and will lead to more deaths.”[18]

I have known since I was a little boy that it is imperative for women to check for lumps and get screening as soon as possible if they have any suspicions of a cancer lump in their breast. But this was not possible in August 2021 in NSW. In 2020 there were 3,031 breast cancer deaths, 33 males, 2,997 females.[19] Nearly 20 thousand diagnosis’.[20]. In 2018 breast cancer was the second worst cause of cancer death amongst women in Australia with 2,999 women lost to their families.[21] In 2020 Victoria’s lockdown resulted in 300 breast cancer diagnosis’ going undetected.[22] This is not theoretical. It is imperative that we condemn these strategies, so that men and women, but especially women who are at greater risk of breast cancer, cannot be denied such an essential service ever again. This is just one significant factor that shows the Stanford researchers were always right, lockdowns caused more issues than they solve. This is the data on just one cancer, what about prostate cancer for men, or bowel cancer, or lung cancer which killed Andy Steels?

If you supported lockdowns you supported hundreds of thousands of people worldwide missing out on a potentially life-saving cancer diagnosis’. You supported a situation where a young woman potentially could not get that suspected lump checked in her breast, or a situation where a man could not get that early detection of issues in his bowel before it became life threatening. You supported a situation where one health problem was being focused on myopically while others were being ignored, or not given the attention they deserved. This was all predictable and predicted, and so you a culpable for staying silent.

Then there is the self-harm and suicides of children. At the best of times this is a serious societal problem, during Australia’s lockdowns we have already noted a 31% increase in presentations to hospital caused by the pressure they bring on people. But let’s put a face to the data, let me tell you about young boy called Hayden.

“A 12-year-old Texas boy who felt “sad and lonely” amid the coronavirus lockdown measures hanged himself, his father revealed in a report about the tragedy...

…Hayden Hunstable, of Aledo, took his own life three days before his 13th birthday in April 2020 because he didn’t know how to deal with the isolation and depression when the emerging disease caused a nationwide shutdown, the UK’s Metro reported…

…The dad said his son was hit hard by the lockdown, which made it impossible to hang out with his friends, and took a strong dislike to virtual learning.

This story breaks my heart. I am sure that this young boy had other issues in his life he was struggling with. But they were exacerbated by the lockdowns. What a tragedy.”[23]

There are many people who supported lockdowns and mandates (and some who still want them again[24]) because they believe they are a net life-saving strategy. But there are very good reasons to question this assumption. Lockdowns drove many young and healthy people who have very little to worry about when it comes to getting sick from covid into depression, anxiety and stress which can lead to suicide. Indeed, I have spoken to pastors who have attended funerals because of suicide brought on by lockdowns. Some people blame this on the pandemic, but we never used to do lockdowns for a reason, we knew how devastating such extreme measures are to people’s lives. This young American man is not alone, and we do not need to rely on just anecdotal evidence,

“…in Japan, during their second lockdown suicide rates increased by 49% among children and adolescents, and 37% among women. These lockdowns are affecting so many people in terrible ways, and this article only scratches the surface of those ramifications. But what cannot be denied is that they are real.”[25]

What is very troubling about this, is it was in the second lockdown that suicide rates increased. Because the longer these went on and the more they were utilized, the more their negative effects caused a cascade of increasing harms, this was born out in Japan.[26] Look what was happening in Australia during these societal wide torment policies:

“Attempted suicide rates among Victorian teenagers have skyrocketed by 184 per cent in the past six months. Disturbing new data from the Kids Helpline revealed the shocking statistic after Victoria was plunged into its fourth major Covid-19 lockdown in the past 12 months. Teenagers aged 13-18 were the most at risk, accounting for 75 per cent of the total crisis interventions from December 1, 2020, to May 31, 2021.”[27]

Our response to this covid epidemic has not removed the risk of bad consequences for our society, rather our response has shifted the risk burden to those in least danger of this virus, but also with the least political power, voice and understanding of how to navigate this world; the young. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, we are commanded. Please hear this, listen to this, consider this, and act on this by communicating it with someone else. You were not supporting a net good for society with lockdowns and mandates, you supported harm being shifted from one area to another. We could have thought in March 2020 that they were ok, but we knew better by early 2021 that they were net negative, and we need to take an accounting of the harm they did. We all have a responsibility to call for an accounting for these terrible acts. Maybe a Royal Commission, or something of the kind.

And if you want to engage with more science on this matter, you can read some CDC data here, but this isn’t just about “the data”, this is about humanity, and the Church especially has a responsibility to be a voice of conscience in times of crisis. We largely gave up our dignity and humanity as a society, because of a society wide fear of a virus that countries like Sweden[28] weathered without freaking out. Any policy which makes 1 in 4 young adults consider suicide,[29] or creates a 184% increase in attempted suicides or increased admissions to hospital care for attempted self-harm, is a failed policy. Can that point really be questioned? Yet the Church remained largely silent.

You might respond that, come on mate, one could argue that the pandemic has done this to people, not the lockdowns. But note this, lockdowns are an inhumane social policy, that has never been performed on such a large scale in the history of the world before the year 2020, because of one very simple reality: humans are inherently social creatures.  

Whether you are a Christian, which I am, or an ardent evolutionary atheist, we all know one inherent fact about humans; there has never been a time when humans were not social creatures. God himself said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and Charles Darwin noted about man, “Should he afterwards reflect over his own conduct, he would feel that there lies within him an impulsive power widely different from a search after pleasure or happiness; and this seems to be the deeply planted social instinct.”[30] I am not a proponent of Darwin’s theory in anyway, but his observation of man’s desire for social fulfilment being a powerful instinct apart from his desire for pleasure or happiness is incredibly astute. This comes not from evolution though but is from design, God made us this way. God made people to be social creatures. People, even the most ardent introvert, long for social interaction, though at different levels.

To take the man from society is to take the man out of the man. It is to hurt people. This is why the UN calls prolonged solitary confinement torture.[31] This is also why we have such strict conditions for jailing alleged criminals, because we know that jail is inherently horrible, though it is a necessary evil. And this is why the Politico article goes on to note about the USA that, “States and the federal government have some data showing an increase in drug overdose deaths in the first several months of the year, amid lockdowns, economic uncertainty and added stress caused by the pandemic.”[32]

The pandemic didn’t cause lockdowns, our fear response at the beginning of this pandemic caused lockdowns. This is proven true by the fact that countries and jurisdictions around the world did not lock down and are still going strong today. Our knowledge of this virus and lockdowns and mandates has grown over the last two years, yet still some mandates remain, and there are calls to return to various restrictions. There is not enough talk in the media of how people were hurt by these things.

The dangers of social isolation are not just about emotional and mental health either,

“A wave of new research suggests social separation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.

Another analysis that pooled data from 70 studies and 3.4 million people found that socially isolated individuals had a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age.

Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.”[33]

Lockdowns, which enforced society wide isolation, are deadly. If this research is correct, then we can say that unequivocally, with scientific data to back up the statement. But we also know this deep in our hearts. We don’t need research to tell us that social isolation is bad; we know deeper than many other truths that it is not good for man to be alone. The fact that this damaging reality was so thoroughly ignored by so many, especially in the Church, is to me, personally, one of the most jarring situations I have ever witnessed. What on earth has happened to people? What has happened to God's people? I have seen what social isolation can do to people, including older people’s cognitive decline and overall health. It is devastating. This is not theory, this has been the lived experience of many Australians at various times over the last two years.

After looking at all of this information, showing the clear harms of lockdown, which are not even exhaustive, many people may still be willing to say that they were a necessary evil. But I want to take away your ability to think that and be a credible thinker. All of the information I shared was readily available last year, as I noted, I wrote most of this piece about this time last year. But we now know conclusively with updated data that the pandemic response is killing people now:

“Hundreds more people than usual are dying each week in England and Wales with Covid not to blame for the majority of deaths, new figures show.

Latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show there were 1,540 excess deaths in the week ending June 24 but only around 10 per cent were due to coronavirus.

Health experts have called for an urgent investigation into what is behind the excess mortality, with fears that the pandemic response, lack of access to healthcare and even the cost of living crisis, may be to blame.”[34]

What do they mean by the pandemic response? Well exactly what we have already discussed:

“Some might also be down to other impacts of the pandemic, such as problems in accessing health care, delayed referrals for treatment and then things related to the restrictions we lived under, such as reduced activity and sedentary lives,” he said.

“I think the reality is going to be quite complex but it’s something we do need to be aware of and actually try and understand.

“We know there is a relationship between excess deaths and deprivation so maybe the current financial situation we are in is exacerbating that.”[35]

The most important point in this article though is that the health experts admit that things are getting worse, not better. If our pandemic response worked this would not be the case. The lockdowns, the one size fits all mandated vaccines that had no safety record, the constant pushing of fear, anxiety and pressure all of this has taken a toll on people.

Australia is some time behind Britain because we came out of lockdown later and started vaccinating people later, so we will have to wait for some time after this covid wave before we have as good data as Britain now has. However, we have indications that the situation is going to be the same here. Excess deaths in Australia are far above the average. “In 2022, there were 44,331 deaths that occurred by 31 March and were registered by 31 May. This is 6,609 deaths (17.5%) more than the baseline average. In March there were 14,343 deaths, 1,254 (9.6%) above the historical average.”[36] This has now dropped down to just below 17% as noted above. Heart disease deaths are also on the increase, “3,349 deaths were certified by a doctor as being due to ischaemic heart disease (IHD) between January and March 2022, which is 100 deaths (3.1%) higher than the baseline average.”[37] And cancer deaths are on the rise, “There were 12,240 deaths from cancer between January and March 2022, which is 5.5% higher than the baseline average of 11,602.”[38]

We knew historically that locking down a society was a net bad policy. We were able to observe the data in real time that it was hurting people. We now have current and retrospective data showing the harms these policies caused. And yet some people are still wanting to return to them? And even more people believe they are still necessary and good, even if just being necessary evils. But we can see conclusively that society has been seriously harmed by these policies. There needs to be an accounting, an investigation and a legal reckoning. No one can say that politicians are responsible for the pandemic deaths which they were not the cause of. But they need to own these policies and take responsibility for the harms they caused, otherwise future governments might repeat them or even go further.

Sometimes people just cannot admit their mistakes. We even have a technical name for this kind of mistake, ‘sunken cost fallacy’, look it up. Sometimes people cannot change course, because the financial, personal and emotional costs are too high for them to admit they went the wrong direction. So, instead of course correcting or apologizing they double down. This is a well-known human phenomenon and living through it is always painful for those who have no ability to bring a course correction.

All of this is why we have to speak up about what happened and not just let it fade into the night. We have to speak to our politicians. We have to speak to our community leaders. We have to speak to our Church leaders. We have to speak to whomever we can. We need to advocate for accountability for the damages done, otherwise we are then responsible for doing nothing in the face of evil.

List of References

[5] The supply chains issues and economic issues we are now facing were all predicted by lockdown critics. But we were ignored.

[8] Of the Department of Medicine, Stanford University

[9] Of the Department of Medicine, Stanford University

[10] Of the Center for Health Policy and the Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, Stanford University

[11] of the Department of Medicine, Stanford University, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Stanford University, Department of Biomedical Data Science, Stanford University, Department of Statistics, Stanford University, and Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford University

[28] For those who want to respond that Sweden have a higher death count than us, that is true. But Australia is a warm climate, with a more spread population, with a health system that is just as advanced, we should be nowhere near as high in the numbers as a northern European country, but if you look at world-o-meter you will find that we are quickly catching Sweden up. Our policies failed, and simply delayed the inevitable. If you compare Sweden to a country like Holland, you will see that they did not turn out as bad as people expected.

[30] The Descent of Man (p. 112). Kindle Edition.

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