Lockdowns make poor people “an awful lot poorer” and should not be used as “the primary means of control” for stopping the spread of the coronavirus, David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on covid-19, told repxxxorters as several European nations contemplated imposing new restrictions.
“We really do have to learn to coexist with this virus in a way that doesn’t require constant closing down of economies,” Nabarro said in a Thursday interview with Spectator TV, an offshoot of the British newspaper. Adding that it was also important to avoid “high levels of suffering and death,” he emphasized the need for a “middle path” that allows economic and social life to continue while keeping the virus at bay.
That means having a robust system for testing, contact tracing and isolation, Nabarro said. It also means “leveling with people” and emphasizing the importance of masks, social distancing and staying home while sick. East Asian countries, as well as parts of Canada and Germany, have adopted this approach successfully, he said.
Rising coronavirus caseloads have recently prompted some European countries to reimpose restrictions, although many are taking a more targeted approach than they did in the spring. A growing number of French cities have shut down cafes and bars, while the British government is expected to introduce a tiered system of local lockdowns on Monday. Italy, too, plans to roll out new nationwide restrictions this week, although officials have ruled out a full lockdown.
Nabarro said Thursday that lockdowns serve only one purpose, which is to buy governments time to “regroup” and ease the strain on health workers while building up testing and tracing capacity. Whenever possible, they should be avoided, he said, citing the collapse of the tourism industry on Caribbean and Pacific islands as an example of how lockdowns can worsen global poverty.