THere is currently a discussion, broadcast by media such as Sun and Mail online and circulated on social media, about how Covid-19 predominantly affects older people and people with pre-existing health problems. Some argue that healthy people and under 60 should not be subject to restrictions. There are several flaws in this narrative, both from a practical and an ethical perspective.
Is correct that 388 people Children under 60 without pre-existing health conditions have died from Covid in England. Similarly, “only” 1,591 Covid-related deaths have occurred in people without pre-existing health conditions who are 60 years of age or older. Most of the deaths, 45,770, have occurred in people with pre-existing health problems (3,210 of them in people under 60 years of age).
But what is meant by “pre-existing condition”? These include things like having had treatment for a mental health condition, having autism or other learning difficulties, asthma, chronic kidney disease, chronic neurological disorders, chronic lung disease, dementia, diabetes, rheumatological disorders (types of arthritis and other conditions of joints). and ischemic heart disease (angina and heart attacks). I have asthma, along with approximately 7% of the population in England. If I die from Covid (which is unlikely), I will be classified as having a pre-existing condition.
Furthermore, health, and therefore the distribution of “pre-existing conditions” in society, is inextricably linked to wealth. Being poor means you are at higher risk for diseases like asthma and diabetes. Being poor decreases your life expectancy. The recently published Rebuild Fairer: The Covid-19 Marmot Review highlights the link between deprivation and mortality from Covid-19 and other health conditions: the more private the local authority you live in, the higher the mortality.
The best explanation of this that I have seen is from Dr. Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization: “It is not only Covid-19 that is killing people, it is a privilege, it is the lack of access [to healthcare]They are years of living with health conditions that have not been adequately managed due to the color of their skin, their ethnicity or their social group ”.
Suggesting that the young and the healthy should be able to live their lives unimpeded by restrictions reduces social responsibility for Britain’s health inequality and draws a distinction between “them” (the poor and those at risk) and “us” . We have little chance of eradicating Covid-19 (or many other infectious diseases) or preventing the next pandemic unless we take the issue of health inequality seriously.
The argument that is often made, citing mortality statistics for those without underlying health conditions, is that the economy will go bankrupt unless some are free to return to “normal.” It is not so simple. Society is interconnected and our individual actions have an impact on others. Going to a bar or restaurant requires people to serve food and drink; others to supply the goods we consume; cleaners; and a host of other roles, many of which are occupations with the highest risk of mortality from Covid.
The concept of “targeted protection” is not new and was proposed by the authors of the much-criticized Great Barrington declaration. They suggested: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of achieving herd immunity is to allow those with minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to develop immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting to those who are most at risk. ”The problem is that, even if we accept this idea (I don’t), it is not feasible.
How can we keep some 15 million people (the estimated number of people in England with a chronic illness) away from the virus, care for them in a Covid-safe way, and keep society running? It would be almost impossible. Would they have to live apart from their families? Who would make sure they were fed and cared for during their isolation? Chris Whitty was correct in describing this approach as “flawed and operationally impractical.”
Accepting that we cannot protect millions of people at risk from Covid, any viruses that circulate in low-risk groups will quickly transfer to those who will need medical attention when they are sick. If a healthcare system (this is not a specific NHS problem, as seen in New York) is overwhelmed, it cannot provide medical care to anyone. Reducing the transmission of the virus protects all of us, whether or not we have pre-existing health conditions. If there is less Covid, the health system is better able to treat diseases not associated with Covid to which we are all susceptible.
Death is not the only Covid outcome that matters, for individuals or the economy. Office of National Statistics Dear that there are currently some 186,000 people living in households in England with Covid-related symptoms that have persisted for five to 12 weeks – one in 10 people have symptoms 12 weeks after infection. Although preliminary, the data also suggests that patients who were hospitalized with Covid may have higher rates of new diagnoses of serious heart, kidney and lung conditions, as well as diabetes. We still have a lot to learn about this new disease.
In the end, either everyone’s health matters or no one matters. Where do we draw the line? The “them” and “us” narrative is dangerous, and the idea that Covid-19 won’t affect us all is silly.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.