Delaying The Inevitable: A Case Against Extending Lockdowns

First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.

~ C. S. Lewis

I never intended to write about the pandemic. Nor did I think it appropriate to do so, as I have no qualifications in either epidemiology, virology, economics or politics. I am the textbook definition of a layman.

So why am a writing this then? Mostly, because I need to work through what is happening in my country, and the world, but most importantly I want to present an argument for preserving life. In order to do that effectively I need to first lay some groundwork.


What is the purpose of a lockdown / stay-at-home order?

The reason for the lockdown / stay-at-home orders are to "flatten the curve". What this means is that we have a finite amount of resources, such as hospital beds, ventilators and facilities to deal with the rapid spread of virus, and that if we delay the spread of the virus we can deal with the virus more effectively and in smaller numbers.

Will a lockdown prevent me or my loved ones from getting the virus?

The answer is probably not. We're all going to be personally affected in some way, shape or form. We will either get infected, know of someone who gets infected or deal with loss of some kind. The purpose of lockdown is to "flatten the curve", not prevent the total spread of the virus, but mitigate how fast it spreads.

My lockdown experience in context

In South Africa, where I reside, our lockdown has been extended for another two weeks, to make it a total of five weeks. At the time of writing we have had just under 2200 confirmed infections and just below 30 deaths. South Africa went in lockdown a lot quicker than most countries and we've locked down the economy almost completely, with only "essestial" items being sold. Selling things considered "non-essential" is illegal (at least for now). Only pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations, financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies and emergency services, such as medical, security and police services are allowed to operate during the lockdown.

These businesses selling "essential" items,  are also restricted in what they are allowed to sell, even if it forms part of their normal inventory. You cannot buy toys for your kids during this time, even if they are right next to the bread isle in your local supermarket as they are not deemed "essential". It makes no sense, why buying a toy whilst you are in the shop will spread the disease further, but I doubt we will get a sufficient explanation for that. South Africa has also banned takeaways, online shopping that is not food or medicine related, and forbid the trade of alcohol and cigarettes.

Consider how you provide for your family

People automatically switch off when you talk about the economy. When anybody mentions the economy during this pandemic, you will automatically be labelled evil, heartless and putting money over lives. People will claim that you want to kill your grandparents, because of the stock market, or "evil" corporations.

To try and prevent the conversation from degenerating to that point, let's take away the "evil" corporations, the stock market and whatever you consider to be "immoral" when you think about the economy. Let's pretend for a second that giant scary corporations, evil stock markets and those damn bankers that everyone loves to hate, do not exist or matter.

Ask yourself for a second. How do you provide for your family? How will losing your main source of income affect your ability to provide for your family? How long can you survive without any income? Will you be able to sufficiently feed your family if your income streams dry up? If you do not lose your income, what will happen if your close family members, not residing with you, loose their income? Will you be able to feed the extra mouths? Or are you fine with leaving them to their fate?

The Case Against Extending Lockdowns

Waiting it out

The case for lockdown seems very compelling. It seems like if we can just wait out the virus, then we can all just get back to our lives. Like it used to be. Except it is not going to be like it used to be. That little coffee shop with the baked goods and the good coffee might not survive the financial hardship of closing down for a month or more. The family owned restaurant with the great steak is no longer open, because they could not afford to pay their workers and/or their debt. That is just problems that affect you, can you imagine how they must feel? Now, I can already hear people saying that if those businesses continue to operate, that their staff could be wiped out by the virus. That is somewhat plausible, but the evidence does not seem to suggest that the whole world will die if they do get the virus.

None of the medical professionals as far as I can tell are suggesting that a lockdown will make the virus go away. Your chances of getting the virus are still very good, based on how easily the virus spreads. It means you will in all likelihood still contract the virus, but not as soon as you might have otherwise. However, it seems that people seem to have grabbed on to this false sense of security that a lockdown will solve everything and that they will be magically immune to this virus as long as the lockdown is in place. People are so convinced of this false sense of security that they will accuse people that break the lockdown rules; those hardened criminals walking their dog in the park with no-one within a 100m vicinity of them; of murderous intent.

Waiting it out, will not be an easy task, nor is it feasible to do so, especially if you consider it might take 18 months or longer to get a vaccine. I am not saying that we are not capable of producing vaccines quicker, but we need to be realistic here. Creating a vaccine, it is not an easy thing to do, it is not like a cake recipe, that once you come up with the ingredients, you can just hand over the recipe to everyone. Vaccines and medicines behave differently on different people. There are risks involved with any sort of medication, even with well-established and "safe" medicines, incorrect dosages can cause quite severe side-effects, including death and permanent disability.

Getting sick is part of life

As heartless as it sounds, getting sick is part of life. You will at some point in your life get sick, it might even be the worst thing that has ever happened to you, but you cannot simply change this fact of life.

Disclaimer: I am not in the "It's just the flu" camp. Respiratory diseases are serious. Anything that attacks your lungs are very serious. Pneumonia is not a joke. My mom almost died 3 years ago when she contracted Pneumonia, after undergoing a medical procedure. The day after her medical procedure, all of the sudden she started turning blue, essentially drowning due to fluids in her lungs. Luckily, she was still in the hospital at that point and they could resuscitate and intubate her. She was in ICU for nearly 3 weeks on a ventilator. It was one of the hardest times our family ever went through. A year later my uncle got Pneumonia from flu and died due to complications from the Pneumonia.

Hundreds of thousands of people have similar stories to this, however, we have never locked down entire nations, because of these tragedies. Getting Pneumonia from the flu is very real possibility. It will appear that we are in a very similar territory with the current pandemic. Not all people who get the flu will get Pneumonia and not all people who gets the new virus will get it either. There might be a higher chance with the new virus, but we'll need to wait for more widespread testing in order to draw conclusions.

Almost every single time that I felt sick enough to go to a doctor because of a cold, the flu or bronchitis, the doctors that treated me here in South Africa, gave me a doctor's note to take two days off work. I normally started to feel better by the time I went back to work, not particularly great, but able to work, nonetheless. However, I am pretty sure I was still able to spread my cooties around the office every single time. I would've liked to stay home for a week every time I got sick, to a) rest and feel better and b) not make my co-workers sick, but I also don't want to spend more money to go to doctor for a second time to get a new letter and I was not willing to dig into my leave days either. I am pretty sure this happens everywhere, but I don't know if this will hold up in the court of law.

Normally, nobody accuses you of trying to commit mass-murder when you go back to work, because the doctor only gave you two days off, but people are careful around you and you try to not cough and sneeze all over the place. Everyone in the office will automatically practice social distancing upon your return, because nobody wants to get whatever you had, nor would you like to give it to them.

Basic goods and restrictions

Banning "non-essential" goods is one of those things that I simply cannot wrap my brain around. I understand the need for social distancing, but who decides which goods are essential or which are not?

Consider the following:

  • Your kitchen appliances break, such as your fridge, freezer and or stove.
  • Your baby / toddler outgrew their winter clothes of last year.
  • Your work from home equipment suddenly stops working
  • You would like to start a work from home business and simply can't get your hands on the items you need.

As of the time of writing, you cannot replace or purchase any of these things as the shops are not allowed to sell you any of these items. If your means to prepare or preserve food no longer works, there is a good chance that you might go hungry. If your child does not have adequate warm clothes? What are you going to do? Is it okay for children to go through winter without being properly clothed? If your equipment breaks that allow you to work from home, there is a good chance that it might severely affect your income, or you might even lose your income altogether. Even further to that, if you lost your job when the lockdowns and the subsequent extensions started, you simply cannot get your hands on any items to start a new business from the safety of your home, because the items you require to do so are currently not deemed "essential".

Telling people what they can and cannot consume, especially if it was legal before is not a good framework for governance. Banning products such as alcohol and cigarettes have nothing to do with the health risks of these products. If it did, are baby clothes, electronic products, office equipment, and toys also unhealthy? Then why are these products banned from being sold? The lockdown rules imposed on us have nothing to do with health, but everything to do with government overreach. If government can dictate to you what you may or may not consume, what other rules can they also impose?

Let's ignore the stupidity of the currently banned items and consider the health argument for a second. If you consider that cigarettes and alcohol are bad for you and they should be banned, why not ban other products, such as donuts, chocolates and other refined food items? Those have some very severe health consequences when consumed in excess. If we go to the extreme end of this argument, and ban everything that is unsafe or unhealthy, we will have to ban almost everything. For example, cars kill more people than anything else in the world, so we should get rid of cars. You like skydiving? It's dangerous. Jogging? Cycling? You can get hit by a car (or bus if cars are banned). Someone once died of drinking too much water, I guess we should ban water too...

We can argue what people should or should not be allowed to put into their bodies, but enforcing that on a government level is absurd. You should be very scared of what it means for government to reach so far into your personal life.

Providing for your family

In South Africa our current lockdown duration is now set at 5 weeks. However, consider the lockdown being extended for 3 more months. Millions of people will lose jobs, their income, their means to provide for their family and subsequently be unable to put food on the table. As a nation South Africa does not have even close to the amount of money needed to provide food for even a third of the population.

If you are fortunate enough to work in one of those "essential" businesses you might not be scared about losing your job, but you should be.

People need insurance most of the time, but if you must choose between your kids starving and car insurance, what are you going to choose? Or if you work in banking, a lot of your clientele made decisions based on a 3-week lockdown period that was initially imposed. I am sure that very few people considered the lockdown will be extended and took out loans out of desperation, so that they can survive the 3 week lockdown, not 5 weeks. They now have a problem. They have no way to pay back the loans that they took. The bank suffers losses due to people defaulting on their loans.

I have not read any statistics, but I am pretty sure that those with annuities, provident funds, savings products and other sorts of long-term financial products, are pulling those funds at an alarming rate. It makes no sense to save for retirement when you don't have food to eat now.

Furthermore, we have even more problems that are truly frightening. Our government-run health care facilities are quite fragile. Everyone that is fortunate enough to have the means to pay for private medical aid do so. I am not sure what is going to happen, but if you can no longer pay for private medical care, those government-run facilities might completely collapse.

At the end of the day, starving people are not going to be able to eat insurance products, they are not going to care about retirement funds. There are much more pressing and immediate problems that need to be dealt with. Every single one of these "essential" businesses are going to suffer losses as well, and your job that you considered safe, is no longer looking so safe anymore.

The very idea that this lockdown is a sustainable "solution" is absurd. You are clearly living in fantasy land and think we can just print monopoly money, and everybody will be happy and spend the rest of their days in pajamas, watching Netflix and playing games.

There are very real consequences to these things.

My proposal

Social distancing. Social distancing. Social distancing. No lockdown. You are responsible for your loved ones. You need to ensure that you keep your loved ones fed, healthy, happy and safe. You will adopt your lifestyle to ensure that you can do these things in the safest way possible. Nobody wants to fail their loved ones and they will adopt to whatever circumstances are thrown at them. This is a natural phenomenon. It need not be imposed on people by force. If you go out in the world, sometimes bad things happen. You might die, but you will have made the decision that is right for you and the ones that you love. People inherently know what is best for their families, forcing people to fail their families, by not allowing them the opportunity to provide for them, is not helping them. You are imposing your will on them. This is called tyranny.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

~ C. S. Lewis

Final Thoughts

We cannot live in fear of the unknown forever. We will be paralyzed, unable to function, unable to do what we are supposed to do. We need to press on, despite fear of the unknown. Death is part of life, there is no way getting around that.

I will leave you with yet another quote from C.S. Lewis:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

~ C.S. Lewis "On Living in an Atomic Age" (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays