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Fact Check: World Health Organization Did Not ‘Backflip’ on Lockdowns

A photo of the logo of the World Health Organization at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

A photograph of the emblem of the World Well being Group at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
Picture: Fabrice Coffrini (Getty Pictures)

This week, President Trump grew to become the most recent and loudest voice to advance a story that’s picked up steam amongst bad-faith contrarians desperate to downplay the covid-19 pandemic. The (inaccurate) story is that the World Well being Group has now immediately modified its thoughts about lockdowns being helpful. That is flawed on two fronts, because the WHO has not modified its place on lockdowns and, in reality, has by no means been a proponent of lockdowns as the primary solution to stop the unfold of covid-19.

The hubbub started October 9, when David Nabarro, a medical physician, gave an interview to UK journal The Spectator. Nabarro, who has typically labored with the United Nations and the WHO all through his lengthy profession, was appointed as one of many WHO Director-Basic’s Particular Envoys on COVID-19 Preparedness and Response in February. At one level of the interview, Nabarro said: “We within the World Well being Group don’t advocate lockdowns as the first technique of management of this virus”

These phrases had been rapidly seized upon as proof that the WHO had modified its excited about lockdowns. Right here’s a pattern of headlines that took place:

WHO backflips on virus stance by condemning lockdowns

Health official calls for halting lockdowns

UK Envoy to WHO Calls For End to Global Covid-19 Lockdowns

On Monday, Trump additionally weighed in, stating in a really regular tweet: “The World Well being Group simply admitted that I used to be proper. Lockdowns are killing nations all around the world. The treatment can’t be worse than the issue itself. Open up your states, Democrat governors. Open up New York. A protracted battle, however they lastly did the fitting factor!”

The White Home equally later claimed, in a press name to reporters, that “the World Well being Group formally modified their coverage” on lockdowns over the weekend.

Drawback is, that’s full bunk.

For starters, Nabarro isn’t the official voice of the WHO, however basically an advisor. Even when he had been, although, nothing he mentioned in that interview represents a brand new stance by the general public well being group. Because the very begin of the pandemic, the WHO has been vocal in regards to the restricted utility of lockdowns.

All the best way again in March, as an illustration, WHO official Mike Ryan warned that lockdowns wouldn’t be sufficient to defeat the pandemic, stating that essentially the most they’ll do is purchase nations time to place in sturdy public well being measures to trace and comprise outbreaks as soon as circumstances had been suppressed to a comparatively low degree. With out sufficient of those measures, he added, “the hazard is the illness will leap again up.”

There’s a actual debate amongst public well being consultants about how strict restrictions on bodily distancing and motion ought to have been or ought to be shifting ahead throughout this pandemic. Some nations, similar to New Zealand, opted for a lot heavier lockdowns in an effort to utterly get rid of the illness inside their borders earlier than reopening. Most others opted for a suppression technique, locking down sufficient to drive circumstances low after which counting on a mix of testing, case monitoring, and a few restrictions for areas of enterprise which might be particularly dangerous, similar to bars and indoor eating places. Some nations have additionally embraced common masking insurance policies, whereas others haven’t. Then there’s the U.S., which did embrace suppression initially however started to reopen sooner than many exterior consultants suggested, typically with out enough containment measures for when circumstances started to rise once more.

However importantly, everyone seems to be on board about lockdowns not being the solely technique to battle this pandemic, since they’ll have oblique dangerous results on the financial system and public well being. Few, if any, areas are presently implementing the form of wide-scale restrictions that occurred earlier within the 12 months. That features the U.S., regardless of now being in the course of a 3rd peak of the pandemic, with round 220,000 Individuals lifeless and climbing.

“WHO has by no means advocated for nationwide lockdowns as a major means for controlling the virus. Dr. Nabarro was repeating our recommendation to governments to ‘do all of it,’” a consultant for the WHO advised Gizmodo in an e mail. “Governments, employers, communities ought to apply a package deal of confirmed public well being measures that we all know are efficient for stopping transmission, together with hand and respiratory hygiene, bodily distancing, masks carrying, staying residence when you’re sick, and many others., in addition to having sturdy methods for testing, isolating, tracing and quarantining, and many others.”

A lot of Europe is sadly experiencing an increase in new circumstances, and lots of nations, together with the Netherlands, look to be nicely on their solution to a true second wave. The time purchased throughout earlier lockdowns ought to make containing these outbreaks simpler, whereas now extensively used remedies similar to steroids for essentially the most extreme circumstances will hopefully make this wave much less deadlier than earlier than. Nations have already begun to enact stricter restrictions on distancing to restrict the unfold of the virus, however once more, few are advocating for complete shutdowns, and neither is the WHO.

“If clusters and outbreaks do seem, they need to be slowed after which suppressed promptly and that’s the reason localized and focused motion restrictions, carried out collectively by native actors and nationwide authorities, are wanted infrequently,” the WHO spokesperson wrote.

This newest piece of misinformation is circulating similtaneously the Nice Barrington Declaration, an open petition that requires nations to embrace a “herd immunity” technique whereas largely lifting any restrictions associated to the pandemic. Although the doc claims to be supported by a considerable variety of respectable medical professionals and consultants, many signatures look like fraudulent (taking a look at you, Dr. Johnny Bananas) or not from individuals concerned in infectious illness analysis or epidemiology. The group behind the letter has additionally acquired backing from the American Institute for Financial Analysis, a suppose tank funded by right-wing political teams and identified for its campaigns to downplay local weather change.

Opposite to a since-changed headline from (owned by Information Corp Australia, one of many corporations owned by the Murdoch household that owns Fox Information), the WHO has neither condemned lockdowns nor joined the Nice Barrington Declaration.

On Monday, WHO Director Basic Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had this to say about any herd immunity technique: “By no means within the historical past of public well being has herd immunity been used as a method for responding to an outbreak, not to mention a pandemic. It’s scientifically and ethically problematic.”

To be extra blunt, a name for herd immunity is a name for abandoning individuals to a pandemic that’s already the deadliest to have hit the U.S. in 100 years and has killed over one million individuals worldwide. Lockdowns are an imperfect software for combating this virus, however they’re actually extra helpful than listening to those that fake to care about the remainder of us in championing herd immunity.

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Ed Cara