In 1915, chemistry lost its innocence when mustard gas poisoned British troops in Ypres, Belgium. Physics lost its innocence in 1945 amongst the radioactive rubble of Hiroshima, Japan. Public health lost its innocence in March 2020 when the world adopted lockdowns as a primary tool to control the COVID-19 pandemic.
The idea of lockdown was simple and beguiling – if we reduced all human contact to an absolute minimum, the virus would not spread, and our hospitals would not be overwhelmed.
However, the reality proved to be much more complicated and, indeed, much more harmful as governments sought to show how much they care about the mortality risks from COVID-19 at the expense of so many others.
What, in truth, does it take to minimize human contact? We found out this past year that it requires:
- forcing the poor to migrate, by foot, to their home villages hundreds of miles away
- quarantining healthy people, using digital tracking and physical force.
In other words, it takes the wholehearted embrace of panic as a public health strategy.
Thus other than all the ways it failed, it was a great success.