– June 9, 2020
Go back to normal life

People are so bored with COVID-19 these days that it takes a special kind of disease news to light up the Internet. That came yesterday with a World Health Organization press conference at which Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said that the latest studies show that asymptomatic spreading of the coronavirus appears to be “very rare.”

In saying this repeatedly and in public, she undermined the last bit of rationale there could be for lockdowns, mandated masks, social distancing regulation, and the entire apparatus of compulsion and coercion under which we’ve lived for three months. 

“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual,” Kerkhove said at a news briefing. “It’s very rare.”

What this suggests, of course, is that there is nothing mysteriously magical or insidious about this new virus. It behaves like the viruses that scientists have been studying for one hundred years. What we do with a normal virus is be careful around others when we have symptoms. We don’t cough and sneeze on people and generally stay home if we are sick. That’s how it’s always been. You don’t need lockdown to achieve that; you just proceed with life as normal, treating the sick and otherwise not disrupting life. 

If that is the case with this one, everything we’ve done over the months – the mask wearing, the grasshopper dance not to be next to people, the canceling of everything, the wild paranoia and premodern confusions – has been a calamitous and destructive waste of time, energy, and money. (To be sure, no matter how weird and mysterious a disease is, I don’t believe that government can contribute to making matters better.) 

Recall that the initial basis for the closures and lockdowns was to “flatten the curve” to preserve hospital capacity. That turned out to be a nonissue for nearly every hospital in the country but for a few in the Bronx, New York, which had full capacity for about 48 hours. In the rest of the country, the hospitals emptied out due to public fear and the coerced ending of elective surgeries and diagnostics, resulting in mass furloughs of hospital staff. 

Once that way of thinking was revealed to be ridiculous, we began to hear about all these special characteristics of COVID-19 that required that the lockdown would continue. You can have the wicked disease and not know it because you have no symptoms. But even then, you can pass it on to others who can die. The disease spreaders! 

Plus it can take 14 days from infection to symptoms, and thus people can spread it pre-symptomatically too. Given all of this, there is only one way forward: stay inside and away from everyone. If you go out, you are likely killing people – or so they said. 

The WHO’s press conference on asymptomatic transmission removed the whole basis for nationwide paranoia and fear. If asymptomatic transmission is very rare, there is no need for universalized social distancing. The whole thing is nothing but a global mania based on bad science. I’ve sensed that we would all come to the place at some point, but the WHO’s press conference brought it about sooner than I would have expected. 

Seeing the takeaway go viral, however, caused the WHO to once again flip the other way, just as they did after once supporting the China way only to endorse the Sweden way. Today they started the damage control. 

While asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus does occur, the portion of asymptomatic individuals who transmit the virus remains a “big open question,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said during the Q&A.

“There is much to be answered on this. There is much that is unknown,” he added. “It’s clear that both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals are part of the transmission cycle. The question is what is the relative contribution of each group to overall number of cases.”

Part of the “transmission cycle” – classic evasion. But let’s take him literally. What we know is that something like asymptomatic transmission could happen, might happen, most assuredly does happen somewhere but it is very rare. We don’t know exactly how rare, just that it hasn’t really been documented. Which makes sense. Our data sources are unreliable because of a lack of testing while contact tracing is at best inexact, perhaps even a pseudo-science that only works in the movies. 

Stat explains further:

Outside experts have called on the WHO to release that data. Both outside experts and WHO officials have acknowledged that detecting asymptomatic spread would be really difficult, and just because scientists haven’t seen something occurring often doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

There is nothing in the world wrong with uncertain science. The trouble is that lockdowns were based on a certain application of unknowns: better lock down and ruin people’s lives just in case. So normal life functioning and even basic postulates about free association and ownership had to be thrown out to serve the cause of a mythical safety which we didn’t know if we were even getting in the first place. 

The entire world economy was thrown into a deep depression (however temporarily) based on no certain knowledge about anything. And now we enter into the realm of farce in which the World Health Organization has to give press conference after press conference to clarify the mucky information mess they made in their previous conferences. Meanwhile, the politicians continue to preen and pronounce as if they are saving our lives. 

It’s long past time to stop this pretend game. Go back to normal life. Let science take its course. And above all else, allow medical professionals to do their work without the reckless and dangerous assistance from politicians who seem to know less about disease mitigation than everyone else. 

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and nine books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. Jeffrey is available for speaking and interviews via his emailTw | FB | LinkedIn

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