Dr Mark Toshner

Lockdown was Boris Johnson’s only option

Lockdown was Boris Johnson's only option
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Lockdown is brutal. I don’t want it, you don’t want it, nobody ‘wants’ it. We are, however, at an intensely difficult moment in our fight against Covid-19. The latest wave of the virus is out of control, with the new variant significantly contributing to the huge hike in coronavirus cases. Our healthcare system is reaching the point of no return. This means that there is little choice than for us to face up to the reality that we are in the midst of a crisis – and that Boris Johnson had little choice but to tell us all to 'stay at home' once again.

1,041 deaths from Covid-19 were recorded yesterday, and the high number of those dying from this disease looks set to continue. These grim figures are despite a much improved mortality rate, which is possibly attributable to improved understanding and care in hospitals (and probably related to the impact of dexamethasone, a steroid which has been used to treat Covid patients). 

Yet while we understand this disease better than we did when it first hit our shores in large numbers last March, we cannot bury our heads in the sand about the situation we are in and what the coming weeks will look like. In the last week, on top of the huge mortality reported, 403,914 people tested positive for Covid-19. Let that sink in. There are no good options from here. Only the least worst one. But, still, not everyone accepts what is unfolding. 

So here's the reality: Covid-19 is real, the extended wave is real and not one single frontline doctor will tell you anything other than their deep fears for patients if we don’t rapidly get control of the situation.

This is not just their Covid-19 patients incidentally, for those who make the point that focussing on Covid-19 misses other problems. Without a functioning healthcare system, all care suffers. If you are 20 and are in a car crash, if there is no ICU bed to put you in, you might die. If you are 40 and are diagnosed with treatable breast cancer and the hospital has cancelled all ‘non-urgent’ surgery because the wards are full of Covid-19, the implications are profound. And until enough people are vaccinated, this is the playbook we must follow and that has been well established globally as the unequivocally most successful strategy: a lockdown, followed by cautious easing, continued social distancing, the use of face masks, closing borders, stopping unnecessary travel, aggressive testing and, just as importantly, effective isolation and tracing.

Some prominent voices suggested that Covid-19 was 'over' in the summer and we could return to normal. There is no doubt they were wrong, and it is time for those who made that argument to come clean. As Alastair Hames, a prominent lockdown sceptic has argued, when the facts change, it's time to assess whether your current position needs to change. This is a crisis which has confounded us all. And it would be no bad thing for those who made mistaken assessments of the pandemic to reflect and reconsider their positions. There is more at stake than a handful of bruised egos and dented reputations.

There are, of course, plenty of arguments against lockdown. But those saying that a third lockdown is unacceptable must face up to the reality that if we didn't lock down this week, many, many more people will die prematurely. There is a chance that our health service will be overwhelmed in the coming weeks whatever happens. Yet if we didn't lock down, this is a possibility that becomes closer to a certainty. In such a situation, put simply, those who might have stood a fighting chance of survival would, with no hospital bed or doctor to treat them, die. 

Thankfully though, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. The arrival of the vaccines bears comparison with the 1918 armistice. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a casualty of the pandemic right at the moment when vaccination offers us the beginning of a plausible way out. We need to all support each other, avoid the damaging fracturing of our society, pull together again and get through these coming months first.