Mob mentality that feeds hysteria

The situation is much more serious in developing countries like India where a large percentage of people lead a precarious life even in normal times and hardly have any savings to fall back upon in distress situations like those created by prolonged lockdowns.

Mob mentality that feeds hysteria

(Representational Image: iStock)

Some time back the German Interior Ministry constituted a team of scientists (including Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi) to prepare a report on Covid-19 management but when this group prepared a report on Analysis of Crisis Management which was very critical of the on-going global response and in particular indicated that the crisis was based on false alarm, the ministry distanced itself from the report.

This report also said that more people are dying from the wrong policy response than from the virus. When a whistle-blower drew public attention to this report action was taken against him. The scientists subsequently released a press-release which stated, “therapeutic and preventive measures should never bring more harm than the illness itself.

Their aim should be to protect the risk groups, without endangering the availability of medical care and the health of the whole population, as is unfortunately occurring.” One of the reasons why evidence- based response could not become effective has been because the voice of some very senior scientists like Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, who challenged draconian measures and exaggerated response at an early stage, did not get the desired attention.


Another very senior scientist who has been raising such concerns from the early days of Covid-19 is Prof. John loannidis of Stanford University, USA. In several writings he has pointed out that the fatality rate of Covid-19 is low, in fact several times lower than the earlier estimates of the WHO and others who gave a rather alarming picture. The following statement of Dr. loannidis gives a summary of a lot of recent research on Covid-19.

“The infection fatality rate (IFR), the probability of dying for a person who is infected, is one of the most critical and most contested features of the corona virus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. The expected total mortality burden of Covid-19 is directly related to the IFR. Moreover, justification for various non-pharmacological public health interventions depends crucially on the IFR.

Some aggressive interventions that potentially induce also more pronounced collateral harms may be considered appropriate, if IFR is high. Conversely, the same measures may fall short of acceptable risk-benefit thresholds, if the IFR is low…Interestingly, despite their differences in design, execution, and analysis, most studies provide IFR point estimates that are within a relatively narrow range.

Seven of the 12 inferred IFRs are in the range 0.07 to 0.20 (corrected IFR of 0.06 to 0.16) which are similar to IFR values of seasonal influenza. Three values are modestly higher (corrected IFR of 0.25-0.40 in Gangelt, Geneva, and Wuhan) and two are modestly lower than this range (corrected IFR of 0.02- 0.03 in Kobe and Oise).” Another researcher from Stanford, Dr. Scott Atlas has written a widely quoted article with the telltale title, “The data is in – stop the panic and end the total isolation.”

He writes: “The recent Stanford University antibody study now estimates that the fatality rate if infected is likely 0.1 to 0.2 per cent, a risk far lower than previous World Health Organization estimates that were 20 to 30 times higher and that motivated isolation policies…Let’s stop underemphasising empirical evidence while instead doubling down on hypothetical models.

Facts matter.” Dr.Yoram Lass, former director of Israel’s Health Ministry has summarized what has gone wrong and how evidence-based approach was pushed aside. He has written, “It is the first epidemic in history which is accompanied by another epidemic – the virus of the social networks. These new media have brainwashed entire populations. What you get is fear and anxiety, and an inability to look at real data. And therefore you have all the ingredients for monstrous hysteria…Compared to that rise, the draconian measures are of biblical proportions.

Hundreds of millions of people are suffering. In developing countries many will die from starvation. In developed countries many will die from unemployment. Unemployment Is mortality. More people will die from the measures than from the virus. And the people who die from the measures are the breadwinners. They are younger. Among the people who die from corona virus, the median age is often higher than the life expectancy of the population.

What has been done is not proportionate. But people are afraid. People are brainwashed. They do not listen to the data. And that includes governments.” The price of ignoring a measured, evidence-based approach has been very high. A group of professors from Stanford, Duke, Chicago and Hebrew University have stated, “Although well-intentioned, the lockdown was imposed without consideration of its consequences beyond those directly from the pandemic….

The policies have created the greatest global economic disruption in history, with trillions of dollars of lost economic output. These financial losses have been falsely portrayed as purely economic. To the contrary, using numerous National Institutes of Health Public Access publications, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and various actuarial tables, we calculate that these policies will cause devastating non-economic consequences that will total millions of accumulated years of life lost in the United States, far beyond what the virus itself has caused…

Considering only the losses of life from missed health care and unemployment due solely to the lockdown policy, we conservatively estimate that the national lockdown is responsible for at least 700,000 lost years of life every month, or about 1.5 million so far — already far surpassing the Covid-19 total”. It is the risk of high mortality from draconian measures which were implemented in the name of controlling Covid-19 which prompted Dr. Jay Bhattacharya (who has played a key role in several recent Stanford researches on Covid-19) to say in a recent interview that it is not a question of lives vs. livelihoods but lives vs. lives.

Prof. Ioannidis has asserted a similar view in more detail, “we should not look away from the real harms of the most drastic of our interventions, which also disproportionately affect the disadvantaged. We know that prolonged lockdown of the entire population has delayed cancer treatments and has made people with serious disease like heart attacks avoid going to the hospital. It is leading hospital systems to furlough and lay off personnel, it is devastating mental health, it is increasing domestic violence and child abuse, and it has added at least 36.5 million new people to the ranks of the unemployed in the United States alone.

Many of these people will lose health insurance, putting them at further risk of declining health and economic distress. Prolonged unemployment is estimated to lead to an extra 75,000 deaths of despair in the United States alone over the coming decade. At a global level, disruption has increased the number of people at risk of starvation to more than a billion, suspension of mass vaccination campaigns is posing a threat of resurgence of infectious diseases that kill children….”

The situation is much more serious in developing countries like India where a large percentage of people lead a precarious life even in normal times and hardly have any savings to fall back upon in distress situations like those created by prolonged lockdowns. The extreme distress faced by migrant workers in India, for instance, has attracted worldwide attention. It is shocking that the neglect of evidence-led approach and the easy acceptance of highly flawed, highly exaggerated models have created so much avoidable distress and suffering.

As Prof. loannidis has written, more in sadness than in anger, “There’s some sort of mob mentality here operating that they just insist that this has to be the end of the world, and it has to be that the sky is falling. It’s attacking studies with data based on speculation and science fiction. But dismissing real data in favor of mathematical speculation is mind-boggling.” Hence it is clear that there have been important impediments in following evidence-based scientific response centered on public interest in the context of Covid-19 and efforts of citizens as well as scientists and doctors are needed to overcome these impediments.

(The writer is Convener of Save the Earth Now Campaign. His latest books are Protecting Earth for Children and Planet in Peril)