Scottish Daily Mail
Lockdown may have been a ‘monumental mistake’, claims key Sturgeon adviser
THOUSANDS of lives could have been saved if targeted testing had been introduced earlier, a senior Scottish Government adviser has claimed.
Professor Mark Woolhouse said earlier testing might have prevented the closure of schools – and fears lockdown may have been a ‘monumental mistake’.
He warns that the longer we remain in lockdown, the greater the harm to the economy, education, healthcare provision and people’s mental health.
The remarks contradict the moves by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is easing Scotland out of lockdown far more cautiously than Boris Johnson’s government.
Professor Woolhouse is a member of the Scottish Government Covid-19 Advisory Group, which was set up by the First Minister to give her direct advice on the disease.
But the professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh told the New Statesman: ‘As much of the world grapples with the problem of ending Covid-19 restrictions, it is worth asking how we got into lockdown in the first place.
‘One answer is that it was a panic measure for want of any better response to this emergency and I supported its introduction for that reason.
‘Lockdown was conceived as part of the World Health Organisation’s attempt to eradicate Covid-19. It took months for the WHO to accept eradication was a hopeless cause – the number of Covid-19 cases worldwide continues to rise – but the damage was done.
‘One country after another followed the WHO’s lead.
‘Some, such as New Zealand, controlled their first waves quickly; others, including the
UK, were slower to respond and have suffered badly.
‘No one knows what to do next. As one of my colleagues put it, we have made it to the lifeboat but have no idea how we’re going to reach the shore.’
Professor Woolhouse added that the disease is ‘not going away any time soon, if at all’, so alternative measures are now needed. He said: ‘It is concerning that lockdown is still the WHO’s recommended public health response six months into the pandemic.
‘The vital step is to recognise that this unpleasant virus is not equally unpleasant for everyone. Age is by far the most important risk factor.
‘In the UK, the chances of dying from Covid-19 are at least 10,000 times greater for the over75s than the under-15s. Yet we worry as much about schools as we do about care homes. Our priority should be to protect the old and others at greatest risk.
‘Testing has a significant role to play but we need to be more ambitious about scale and speed, concentrating first on those [people] in close contact with those most at risk. If we had focused on this from the outset we might have saved thousands of lives and avoided locking down our children and damaging their futures.’
Professor Woolhouse added: ‘The longer we remain in the limbo of lockdown the more we are harming the world’s economies, healthcare provision, our mental health and our children’s education.
‘When the reckoning comes we may well find the cure turned out to be far worse than the disease. I fear history will judge lockdown as a monumental mistake on a global scale.’
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs said: ‘This is a stark admission from a key adviser to the SNP Government on coronavirus.
‘The failures in testing by this Scottish Government appear to have cost lives and will jeopardise Scotland’s journey out of lockdown.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘At all times the Scottish Government’s actions – including moving into lockdown – have been guided by the best and most up to date scientific and medical advice.
‘Professor Woolhouse is one of a number of clinicians and scientists advising the Scottish Government and we will continue to take his views seriously as we come to judgments about what is for the best for the country as a whole.’
‘Need to be more ambitious’