As the nations of Germany and France brace to hunker-down under fresh new lockdown measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, a Special Envoy of the World Health Organization has reiterated previous caution of using lockdowns as a primary method of combating the virus.
WHO’s special envoy on COVID-19, Dr. David Nabarro, cautioned in a Thursday interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today that full national lockdowns should be used only as a “reserve” measure to control the coronavirus, describing such actions as very extreme.
Nabarro, who was appointed in February as one of six special envoys tasked to deal with the corona virus response, warned that national lockdowns are “a very extreme restriction on economic and social life” that temporarily “freezes the virus in place.”
“You don’t want to use those as your primary, and I stress that, primary, means of containment. Because in the end living with the virus as a constant threat means maintaining the capacity to find people with the disease and isolating them,” Nabarro said.
The British doctor went on to recommend a robust test, trace and isolation system as the priority for government response with lockdown being “the reserve that you use to take the heat out of the system when things are really bad.”
In early October, Nabarro also cautioned against lockdowns in an interview with the Spectator, saying, “we in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus.”
“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.”
Perhaps the most jarring part of his warning was when he described the economic impact of imposing strict lockdowns.
“Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer,” he said.
The Special Envoy’s warning came as the World Bank detailed how the disruptions caused by COVID-19 could push an additional 88 million into extreme poverty.
It appears Nabarro’s words have fallen on deaf ears with some world leaders as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel announcing fresh lockdowns measures on their citizens on Wednesday.
France will head into a nationwide lockdown on Friday under which citizens can only leave home to go to work, to go to school, for a medical appointment, to give assistance to loved ones, for essential shopping or for physical exercise.
In Germany, Chancellor Merkel announced a four-week shutdown of bars, restaurants and theaters.
“We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency,” she said.