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After supporting coronavirus lockdowns for months, the WHO just made the reversal of the year

Published Oct 11th, 2020 11:02PM EDT
Coronavirus lockdown
Image: Luca Lorenzelli/Adobe

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  • After months of warning of the necessity of coronavirus lockdowns as a means of getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control, the World Health Organization has apparently had a change of heart.
  • Lockdowns, one WHO official said in a recent interview, have done incalculable damage on their own and should really be avoided.
  • The right way to combat the coronavirus pandemic, this interview continued, is a target mix of measures that include individual behaviors like mask-wearing and social-distancing.

As recently as July, the World Health Organization was still scaring people around the world — who’d either just started coming out of months-long, localized coronavirus lockdowns or whose communities were about to clamp down for the first time — by saying that “total lockdown” might be needed to nip the COVID-19 pandemic in the bud in some places.

Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said as much during a press conference in early July. “We all want to avoid whole countries going back into total lockdown,” he said. “That is not a desire that anybody has. But there may be situations in which that is the only option.” The WHO was warning countries at that point that they should only very “slowly” come out of any coronavirus lockdown they’d imposed, and that every nation around the world needed to answer the “fundamental question” for itself as to when and how (and whether) there might be a need for another future lockdown period. “Once lockdowns were ended, there was always the risk that the disease could bounce back,” Ryan continued during the press conference.

What a difference a couple of months makes.

Now? Well, suffice it to say the WHO’s new position on lockdowns as a means of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is quite different — and will come as cold comfort to anyone who was lucky enough to have avoided the virus but whose life has been wrecked by the ensuing lockdowns and their follow-on effects. Not only is the WHO now sounding a warning about the negative effects associated with too-harsh lockdowns, which have wrecked businesses and livelihoods in countless cities, states, and countries — but a WHO official in a new interview is actively recommending against them.

Dr. David Nabarro, a “special envoy” of the WHO’s director-general, said in an interview with the British magazine The Spectator that restrictions like lockdowns should really only be a last resort — if even that.

“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” he said. “The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

In a commentary penned by Nabarro and available via the tweet above, he writes that: “Some commentators say ‘more restrictions needed now.’ Others say ‘let the virus run wild and build up herd immunity.’ A middle path is needed. Too many restrictions damage people’s livelihoods and provoke resentment. ‘Virus run wild’ will lead to lots of deaths as well as debilitating long-Covid among younger people.”

One of the only things these coronavirus lockdowns are really good at, Nabarro told The Spectator, is “making poor people an awful lot poorer.” It may even be that we see a doubling of world poverty next year, he lamented.

Now they tell us.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.