Dr. David L. Katz, President of the True Health Initiative, asked on March 20 if our fight against the coronavirus was worse than the disease. Could there not be more specific means to combat the disease? What about all the collateral damage?
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Stanford Professor Scott Atlas said during an interview that under the misassumption that we have to contain COVID-19, we have created a catastrophic situation in the health care sector. Irrational fears were generated because the disease as a whole is a mild one. Thus, there is no reason for comprehensive testing in the general population and it should be done only where appropriate, namely in hospitals and nursing homes. At the end of April, Atlas published an article entitled “The data are in – stop the panic and total isolation”.
In Germany, Wolfgang Schäuble, presiding officer of the German parliament, stated that not absolutely everything must be subordinate to the protection of life.
“If there is anything at all that has an absolute value in our constitution, it is human dignity which is inviolable. But it does not preclude that we have to die.”
The media immediately flared back in righteous disgust: “Human dignity versus human life – can you balance one against the other?”.
Many still fail to comprehend that we have sacrificed both.
Proponents of the pointless measures argue that every person has the right to grow as old as possible. Even if the virus were only the straw that broke the camel’s back, it was still at fault. Without the virus, the deceased may have lived months or even years longer. It is our moral duty to sacrifice our personal wants and needs when lives of others are at stake. The economy can recover, the dead cannot. The Merkel mantra, chanted day and night by her ardent followers: “Protecting the health of our citizens must, at all costs, remain our supreme goal.”
Honorable as this may sound, it betrays an alarming inability to comprehend the essence of public welfare. The following numbers have already been presented but because of their importance, they will be repeated here. During the course of this entire epidemic, a maximum number of 10 in 10,000 over 80 year-olds have died with or from the virus. The number of “true” COVID-19 deaths cannot be higher than 1–2 per 10,000. How many human lives were really prolonged by the horrendous measures? Maybe 2–4 per 10,000? Or even 4–8? But definitely not more. And at what cost?
The one employee of the GMI who dared to compile an analysis of the collateral damage to the health care system was suspended. The government was not interested. Nothing can be placed over human life. But what are the consequences for health and welfare of the populace if the economy collapses and people are confronted with the end of their existence?
It will strike all countries. The global economic crisis could plunge 500 million people into poverty, so stated in a position paper by the UN.
The US Federal Reserve (FED) expects a dramatic decline of up to 30% in American economic performance. FED director Jerome Powell assumes a 20% to 25% increase in the unemployment rate. Almost 36.5 million people have lost their jobs. It is “the most traumatic job loss in the history of the US economy,” says Gregory Daco, US Chief Economist of the Oxford Economics Institute.
The EU commission predicts a deep recession of historic magnitude for Europe.
According to their prognosis, the economy will shrink a good 7% and will not completely recover in the next year.
In Germany too, the economy is starting to crumble. Since the second half of March it is down to 80% of normal economic performance. Reduced hours compensation is registered for about 10 million employees. Without short-time work, the unemployment rate would have increased dramatically, similar to the US. In April we have “only” 300,000 additional unemployed. But this will not be the end of the story, not by a long shot.
The government boasted that they are weaving safety nets, the “greatest rescue package in Germany’s history” will help mitigate the collateral damage. But that rescue package is ridiculous in relation to the damage that has been done. Countless people are falling through the net. Existences have been destroyed and lives have been lost. They cannot be salvaged by safety nets.
Disruption of medical care
Many who were ill were afraid to visit hospitals for fear of catching the “killer virus”.
Often older people would rather not “be a burden” to their doctors, who they thought were battling to save COVID-19 patients.
Patients requiring medical examinations were turned away, all that was not deemed of “vital importance” cancelled or postponed.
Medical check-ups were not performed.
Operations were postponed to free up capacity for “coronavirus patients”.
Domestic violence against women and children increased.
The number of suicides rose.
Drugs and suicide
Following the financial crisis of 2008, the number of suicides rose in countries all over the world. According to the National Health Group Well Being Trust, unemployment, economic downfall and despair could now drive 75,000 Americans to drug abuse and suicide. The Australian government estimates a rise in suicides of 50%(180), a number 10 times higher than the number of “coronavirus deaths”. Unemployment and poverty are also predicted to markedly increase suicide rates in Germany.
Heart attack and stroke
Unemployment increases the risk of heart attack to an extent comparable to cigarette smoking, diabetes and hypertension. But where did all the patients with heart attacks disappear to? Admissions to emergency care units dropped 30% as compared to the previous month. Not because the patients were miraculously cured but because they were terrified of catching the deadly virus in the hospital. Preliminary symptoms went unheeded, even though such symptoms are often the harbinger of a deadly attack and need to be closely attended to in hospital.
“This is a most dangerous development… There are now 50% fewer patients with mild symptoms in the emergency room,” explains Dr Sven Thonke, chief physician at the Clinic for Neurology in Hanau in a newspaper interview. Many pending strokes initially cause mild symptoms such as dizziness, speech, visual problems and muscle weakness. Thonke: “There are now 50% fewer patients with mild-symptoms in the emergency room.” This is extremely worrisome because more often than not mild symptoms herald the severe stroke that can be rapidly fatal if the emergency is not immediately tended to.
According to the scientific institute of the AOK (German health insurance company), the following diagnoses dropped considerably in April: 51% fewer respiratory diseases, 47% fewer diseases of the digestive tract, and 29% fewer injuries and poisonings.
Care of tumor patients was catastrophic. Monitoring of tumor treatment was no longer conducted at the required levels. Control examinations were postponed or cancelled. Patients waited in agony for the next appointment – alone with their fears and the single remaining question: how much time was still left to them.
30 million elective surgeries were postponed or cancelled worldwide during the first 12 weeks of the pandemic. In 2018, 1.4 million operations were performed on average every month. 50–90% of all scheduled operations were postponed or not performed in March, April and May 2020. This translates to at least 2 million operations that would normally have been performed. The consequences must be profound.
Further consequences for the elderly
In Germany, more than 1,000 people over the age of 80 die every day. While we are taking drastic measures to prevent them from dying of COVID-19, we are making their lives less worth living. This cannot but impinge on life expectancy.
Quality of life
Especially in old age – when many friends have already passed on and the body no longer works the way it once did – life is not about how many more days or years but about a life worth living. That could be accomplished by exercise and remaining active, through social contacts, by taking recreational holidays, visiting events and even shopping sprees, with regular visits to the sauna or a fitness studio or the daily walk to the corner café.
But what happens when, all of a sudden, the café and everything else is closed? No more visits to old friends, no more social events. And no visitors either.
Loneliness and isolation
Functioning social networks safeguard the elderly from loneliness. Five to twenty percent of senior German citizens feel lonely and isolated. After the lockdown, almost all contact with other people stopped for months, which must have worsened these feelings. For those who cannot leave the house unassisted, nursing services arrange “senior social groups”, where the elderly are picked up once a week and then taken safely home again. It’s not much, but it’s so important to be with other people again and devastating when no longer there.
Yes, every individual has the right to reach as old an age as possible. But every person nearing the end of their life should also have the right to decide how they want to go. Most do not fear the end. As the time approaches, people become increasingly detached and willing to embark on their last journey.
When we hear talk about the “older people” and we are told that it is our moral duty to protect them, many picture sprightly seniors who are enjoying their time on ocean liners. In reality, the endangered elderly are multi-morbid individuals at the end of their lives. People who have not been able to leave their beds for days, weeks or months. People whose tumor’s have spread throughout their bodies and are in constant pain. People who cannot go on anymore and maybe do not want to go on. People who sometimes just wait for a kind fate to relieve them of their suffering.
Amidst all the protective measures for the high-risk groups in retirement and nursing homes, at the end the individual decision should have the highest priority. Most no longer care whether their loved ones bring the coronavirus to them, as long as someone is there to hold their hand, to talk about the past, and to whisper I love you and farewell.
Innocent and vulnerable: our children
Children – like the elderly – are the most vulnerable in our society and it is our duty to care for them. Millions of children in the world are suffering acutely from the coronavirus measures. “The coronavirus strikes more children and their families than those who are actually gripped by the infections,” says Cornelius Williams, Head of the UNICEF Child Protection League.
Children cannot thrive without social contacts. Separation from key people like grandma and grandpa, auntie and uncle, their best friends – the closed schools, inaccessible playgrounds and barred sports fields disrupt their lives. Social ethicists point out how vital it is for children to be in contact with their peers.
Children have a right to education. Since the schools have been closed, millions of students are lagging behind according to an estimate of the German Teacher Association. Their president, Heinz-Peter Meidinger, sees educational deficits for approximately 3 million children, especially in students from difficult social backgrounds and from impoverished families.
Tens of thousands of children in Germany become victims of violence and abuse every year(190). Crime statistics from 2018 show that
3 children die in the aftermath of physical violence every week
10 children are physically or mentally abused every day
40 children are sexually abused every day
And these, of course, are only the known cases. Can you imagine the situation in coronavirus times?
When parents are stressed, on the brink of losing their jobs and facing financial ruin?
When arguments and quarrels become a daily occurrence?
With increased alcohol consumption?
When children are at home day after day, with no way of escape?
Teachers who normally play important roles in safeguarding endangered children are gone. Who then should notify the youth welfare office should the need arise?
The government’s commissioner for abuse, Johannes-Wilhelm Rörig, issued an urgent warning. There were indications from the quarantined town of Wuhan that the cases of domestic violence had tripled during the “trapped-at-home” time. There were “equally alarming numbers” from Italy and Spain.
Consequences for the world’s poorest
Many in this country took the opportunity to get their house and garden back into shape during the coronavirus crisis. Understandably, since home-office work was only semi-effective for want of equipment and slow internet connections. Actually, the majority of the middle class and the affluent were not doing badly. Well, the neighbor who now has to apply for Hartz IV (unemployment benefits) will surely get back on his feet. People tend to think as far as their front door, maybe a bit beyond, but that’s it. Many are not aware that the most severe consequences often affect the poorest of the poor. One must not close one’s eyes to the fact that the existence and lives of countless people are threatened.
In India, there are hundreds of millions of day-laborer’s, many of whom led a hand-to-mouth existence before the coronavirus restrictions robbed them of their livelihoods. Now they have no more means to survive. They are “protected” against the coronavirus and are in turn left to starve.
In many African countries, coronavirus lockdowns are brutally enforced by police and military. Whoever shows his face on the streets is beaten. Children, who usually survive on their one meal in school, are forbidden to leave the house. They, too, can starve.
At the end of April, the Head of the UN World Food Program, David Beasley, gave a warning before the UN Security Council: because of coronavirus, there is a danger that the world will face a “hunger pandemic of biblical proportions”. “It is expected that lockdowns and economic recessions will lead to a drastic loss of income among the working poor. On top of this, financial aid from overseas will decrease, which will hit countries like Haiti, Nepal and Somalia, just to name a few. Loss of revenue from tourism will doom countries like Ethiopia, since it represents 47 percent of national income.”
Consequences for medical care and maintenance of health
Medical care is a luxury that only a few in the poorest countries can afford. Advances and positive developments of recent years are now in danger of collapse.
Vaccination campaigns against the measles were suspended in many countries. Although measles rarely cause death in western countries, 3–6% of the infected people in poor countries die, and those who survive often have life-long disabilities. The virus has claimed 6,500 child deaths in the Congo Republic.
Between 2003 and 2013, Zimbabwe succeeded in lowering yearly malaria infections from 155 per 1,000 inhabitants to just 22. Now, and within a short time, there have been more than 130 deaths and 135,000 infections. Two thirds of all fatalities were < 5 year-old children.
According to the WHO, malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa could rise to 769,000 in 2020, which would double the number for 2018. If so, they would be thrown back to a “mortality standard” of 20 years ago. The probable reason for this catastrophe is the fact that insecticide-treated mosquito nets can no longer be adequately distributed.
Are the malaria deaths in Zimbabwe and the measles deaths in the Congo only precursors of what is in store for the continent?
With the prescribed measures, was our government able to prolong the lives of people who would leave us in the next days, months or perhaps a few years? Maybe, maybe not. Were many lives saved through these measures? They certainly were not, because these restrictions were imposed when the epidemic was already subsiding.
One thing is certain. The immeasurable grief that these measures have inflicted cannot possibly be put into words or numbers.