In countries freer than ours, criticism is growing of this shortsighted and panicked reaction called lockdown, with its brutal social and economic consequences and whose long-term health effectiveness is beginning to be called into question. In the words of Stanford biology professor and Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, “there is no doubt in my mind what when we come to look back on this, the damage done by lockdowns will exceed any saving of lives by a huge factor”. Some criticism focuses on the enormous economic hardship it is already causing. Indeed, although the Spanish government believes that the economy is like a car that can be stopped and restarted just like that, this is not the case. In reality, the economy resembles more a biological system rather than a machine. Thus, the brutal deprivation of activity can be assimilated to anoxia, the almost total lack of oxygen that leads rapidly to irreversible organic deterioration: just as quickly, the economic standstill produces permanent and irreparable damage. However, the same people in the Spanish government who did not understand the error of a week’s delay in fighting the epidemic do not understand the error of delaying the return to normality: in a week, jobs will be lost that will not be recovered, perhaps, for another decade. Or maybe they do understand, in which case they are trying to create an impoverished society dependent on the handouts of the ruling caste. They call it, I think, a “minimum vital income” (vital for maintaining power, of course).
Typical of the age of propaganda in which we live, the government has created a Manichean and fallacious debate by contrasting the will to “save lives” (defended by the left, i.e. the good guys) with the will to “save the economy” (defended by the right, i.e. the bad guys). How come this government talk about saving lives with such impudence? After 50 days with the most drastic lockdown in the world (ten times the average incubation period of the virus), we have gone from 288 to nearly 38,000 deaths (according to regional data), which makes Spain the country with the highest mortality per capita. Nearly 97% of those who died were over 60 years old (almost all over 70) and a large part of the remaining 3% suffered from concomitant pathologies. These data encourage the critics of lockdowns, that would have unnecessarily locked up healthy people, who in case of contagion would be mostly asymptomatic or bear mild symptoms (almost the entire working population), while unprotecting those who really needed protection, with horrific consequences. Since the priority is to minimize the number of deaths and not necessarily the number of contagions with mild symptoms, which would have been the results had we isolated only the population at higher risk and the sick, concentrating all available resources on the protection of our elderly and the hospitals, which have proved to be continuous sources of contagion? Remember the 40,000 infected health workers – who have surely infected many others – because the authorities left them without protection devices. And besides the social and economic cost of such a long lockdown, what will be the human cost due to the evident deterioration of mental health, with recommendations that pave the way for anxiety, depression and the development of obsessive-compulsive disorders, and physical health, including the delay of peremptory surgeries and treatments?
There is no contradiction between saving the economy and saving lives, simply because a healthy economy saves lives. If we sink the economy, we will not be able to finance the resources to sustain our health care system and improve it. Indeed, the negative correlation between poverty and health is well known, which explains why the UN Food Program (WFP) has estimated that “there is a real danger that more people will die from the economic impact of Covid-19 than from the virus itself”, predicting that the number of people facing famine will double to 260 million. As the great economist Henry Hazlitt said, “The art of economics consists of looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”
However, the most worrying aspect of lockdowns is the speed with which governments have usurped an almost dictatorial power in an alarming regression of rights and freedoms. Spain has been an extreme case: in just a few weeks our most basic freedoms have been dissolved like sugar, the rule of law has disappeared as if by magic and we have been placed under a house arrest of the most dubious legality while we wait to be released on parole as if we were criminals. By government orders we are watched over by the police (whose image is deteriorating as we speak) in a repressive environment prone to overreaching, with curfews and the need for letter of safe-passage among continuous police controls (typical of dictatorships), intimidating attitudes, disproportionate actions, abusive sanctions and invitations to denounce non-criminal acts such as “lack of solidarity” (another cornerstone of totalitarian regimes is collaborationism, encouraging denouncement among citizens).
With such measures, the power junkies are measuring the citizen’s capacity to endure, wondering to what extent he will swallow the abuses of a new regime that has found in panic – which prevents and blocks thinking – an effective weapon. Therefore, the frightening restriction of freedoms (of movement, of assembly, of expression, of worship) is becoming an experiment. In this context, public health reasons are already being used as an alibi and the group of supposed “experts” endorsing them is being transformed into a cover-up that takes advantage of the principle of authority to make people accept, from the hands of “technicians” in white coats, blatant errors of judgment and crazy proposals that change on the fly according to the applause or booing. And what about the scorn for the dead caused by the opacity in the calculation of their real number, shameful explanations included?
Because they have political roots, many rules are totally absurd and alien to medical logic. For example, in order to avoid crowding on sidewalks now that we are allowed to walk for an hour within 1km of home for a couple hours a day (go imagine!), it would be logical for the duration of the slots to be proportional to the percentage of the population affected, and not the result of bureaucratic whims. It would also be key to take advantage of the central hours of the day, with higher temperatures and sun exposure: according to studies on the seasonality of enveloped viruses, the former weakens the virus, while the latter is a source of vitamin D, which is essential for the immune system and whose insufficiency may be related, according to recent studies, to the more serious conditions caused by SARS-CoV-2. However, the entire population has been deprived of fresh air and sunlight for two months and then allowed to leave only at twilight.
Hannah Arendt described in The Origins of Totalitarianism how lies and fear are the two primary instruments of any totalitarian government: “When the difference between truth and lies becomes a mere question of power and cunning, of pressure and endless repetition, the most monstrous falsehoods are transformed into unquestionable facts”. Thanks to media alarmism, the fear of death from a virus whose real lethality rates for the vast majority of the population is very low has been enough to create a panic and a paranoia that is in the best interests those who wish to impose more permanent forms of restriction of freedoms, control of people and surveillance of their movements. This horror they are trying to impose is called, I believe, the “new normal”.
Dear reader: the authoritarianism of a government with a totalitarian vocation, the deceits and the oppression we are suffering are enormously worrying, but even more worrying is the possibility that a people controlled under suggestion by a state of psychosis may come to despise their fundamental rights and become a meek and dumb sheep led to the slaughterhouse by some soulless power junkies. I believe that, beneath the appearance of an extinguished fire, the embers of the untamed, proud and free Spaniard remain, and will be lit once again. Against the new tyranny, let us wave the old flag of liberty.
Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo