Saturday, 9 January 2021

Preventing viral transmission by lockdowns: a lesson from Antarctica

The Antarctic research stations had for many decades shown the value of isolation as a means of preventing the transmission of viral respiratory illnesses. A small group of individuals are isolated until months later there arrives new personnel and supplies. When this happens, the station personnel are susceptible to colds for a period of ten to fourteen days. Then they are untroubled by colds, until the next arrival of new personnel and supplies. This is the usual pattern. However, it has happened that even after months of isolation the group can contract colds. One such outbreak was studied in depth, and the conclusion was the cause was unknown. The study is worth reading https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2130424/pdf/jhyg00082-0026.pdf

The obvious way the above study is relevant is in relation to the government’s commitment to the use of non-pharmaceutical interventions to control the virus, specifically its commitment to minimise social contact: stay at home, social distancing, face masks, shut downs, etc.

These interventions can never come anywhere near the complete isolation that occurs in the Antarctic research stations. No matter how draconian the measures a government introduced, there would still be millions of social contacts every day. These contacts would inevitably provide a virus (any virus) with a far more conducive environment for replication and disease causation than an isolated Antarctic research station. In other words we have had many decades of real world experience of the potential of lockdowns to prevent viral transmission, and that experience shows it does not work even in the most strict possible incarnation.

Lockdowns do not and can stop a virus. But the harms of lockdowns are obvious for all to see – which is probably why the government explicitly introduces each iteration of lockdown without any impact assessment. The lockdown policies cannot prevent transmission of the virus, but they certainly can and do kill people.

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