On Friday, one of the world’s most senior epidemiologists, Professor Johan Giesecke, sat down with UnHeard and discussed lockdown policies across the globe, and what he perceives as the policies’ weaknesses in tackling the China-originated novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Professor Giesecke currently serves as an advisor to the Swedish Government, was the first Chief Scientist of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), and a former advisor to the director general of the WHO (he’s now retired and serves as an advisor to the WHO only in an honorary capacity).
“The measures we should take against the pandemic should be evidence-based,” he told UnHeard, “and when you start looking around for the measures are being taken now by different countries, you find that very few of them have the shred of evidence base.”
The only measure “we know” will work “is washing your hands is good for you and good for others when you’re in epidemic, but the rest, like border closures, school closures, social distancing, there’s almost no science behind most of these,” argued Giesecke.
In the end, the leading epidemiologist said, most democratized nations will have similar outcomes with regard to deaths, lockdown or not. Lockdowns, he argued, are unsustainable and could have serious political consequences, highlighting Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who recently made a controversial power grab citing the virus.
And yet, Giesecke said, theses measures are only arguably delaying deaths.
Aside from good hygiene, nations should do their best to protect the most vulnerable to COVID: mainly the elderly. Although Giesecke generally thinks Sweden has the right strategy by resisting lockdown, he noted that the nation “failed” when it has come to protecting nursing homes, which are relatively large in Sweden.
“We should have banned visitors earlier,” he said. “Many of the people working in nursing homes are from other countries, they’re refugees or asylum seekers in Sweden. They’re Swedish may not be perfect, they may not always understand the information that has been spread to the population. There are many things we could have done better a couple of weeks or a couple of months ago.”
Regarding the judgement of how nations have handled COVID, the professor suggested, “we should have this discussion a year from now, on the 17th of April, 2021. I think that the difference between countries would be quite small in the end.”
Giesecke estimated the fatality rate of the novel coronavirus to be somewhere around influenza levels, about .1%. What made the disease so scary was that it was new, he argued.
“Most people who get it will never even notice they were infected,” he said, adding that the fatality rate is likely “much, much lower” than what was initially thought.
“I think it would be like a severe influenza season,” Giesecke said, noting that we record COVID deaths more liberally than we would flu deaths.
“When you get (antibody) tests that show people that have had the disease, you’ll see that most of them never even dreamt they had it,” he added, estimating that half of Sweden and the U.K. have already been infected by coronavirus.
The UnHeard host pressed the epidemiologist about his strategy, suggesting there’s an argument that if they continue the lockdown for months, a year, or 18 months, that might be in time for reliable therapeutics or a vaccine, therefore saving lives and not only delaying deaths.
“How long in a democracy do you think it would keep a lockdown?” Giesecke retorted. “How long will it take before people say no … in China you can do it, you can tell people to stay at home and you can weld back that door so they can’t get out, but in a democracy you can’t.”
In the United States, protests have already popped up across the nation, on the heels of over 22 million citizens filing for unemployment.
Below are a series of points made by Mr. Giesecke, via UnHeard:
- UK policy on lockdown and other European countries are not evidence-based
- The correct policy is to protect the old and the frail only
- This will eventually lead to herd immunity as a “by-product”
- The initial UK response, before the “180 degree U-turn”, was better
- The Imperial College paper was “not very good” and he has never seen an unpublished paper have so much policy impact
- The paper was very much too pessimistic
- Any such models are a dubious basis for public policy anyway
- The flattening of the curve is due to the most vulnerable dying first as much as the lockdown
- The results will eventually be similar for all countries
- Covid-19 is a “mild disease” and similar to the flu, and it was the novelty of the disease that scared people.
- The actual fatality rate of Covid-19 is the region of 0.1%
- At least 50% of the population of both the UK and Sweden will be shown to have already had the disease when mass antibody testing becomes available