On March 18, Reuters reported on the release of a European Union document accusing Russian state media of deploying a “significant disinformation campaign” against the West, allegedly aimed at sowing panic and mistrust about COVID-19 and governments’ responses to the pandemic, something which Moscow has fervently denied.
On March 22, however, the Russian state-owned media outlet RT (Russia Today) tweeted a video that arguably supports the EU report’s conclusions.
The video introduces the “RT COVID Freedom Index,” hosted by RT reporter Polly Boiko, who questions the wisdom of the lockdowns that various governments enacted to contain COVID-19. At the start of the video, she downplays the threat from the virus, implying it only kills the elderly.
“First, coronavirus came for your grandparents,” she said. “And then, it came for ... Well, that was it really.”
She then describes the lockdowns, and an image of barbed wire appears behind her.
“Nations went into lockdown, because global pandemics were unprecedented,” she said. “Leaders could think of nothing better to do, than to lock us all in our houses, stop our kids from going to school, and shut down the pubs.”
She compares the level of “freedom” in places like the U.K., with its restrictive lockdown, to Belarus and the U.S. state of Texas, where citizens are allowed to eat in restaurants.
Boiko’s narrative is misleading on multiple counts.
First, implying that COVID-19 only “came for” elderly people alone is wrong. While those over 65 have a higher incidence of death, younger people also are at risk and can spread the disease to vulnerable populations.
In the United States alone, COVID-19 has killed approximately 543,000 people. The idea that only the elderly should fear dying from COVID-19 is just one of many widespread myths about the disease.
In the United States, 20 percent of the COVID-19 cases during the summer of 2020 were young people under 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control. John Hopkins reported that younger people requiring hospitalization due to COVID-19 symptoms also increased in 2020.
One study showed that out of 3,000 patients aged 18 to 34, whose COVID-19 symptoms were severe enough to require hospitalization, 21 percent were in intensive care, 10 percent required respirators, and nearly 3 percent died.
Through mid-March, U.S. mortality data tracked by Statista show that about 20 percent of deaths were among people younger than 65 – a toll of approximately 100,000.
Moreover, there is mounting evidence of long-term effects from the coronavirus infection, including permanent organ damage. Young adults can also be at higher risk for infection because many work in service industry jobs where they are required to interact with people on a daily basis.
Boiko suggests that lockdowns were the idea of national governments, implying that they could think of no other practical solutions. But quarantines, masks, social distancing and vaccinations are all tactics adopted in addition to lockdowns, which are not unprecedented. Lockdowns, quarantines, and restrictions on large social gatherings were all used during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, for example.
The main purpose of lockdowns in the COVID-19 pandemic has been to reduce infection rates and thereby not overburden countries’ healthcare infrastructure. The effect of high volumes of COVID-19 patients was apparent in places like New York City, where healthcare workers suffered from a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other resources. In Russia, doctors frequently complained of shortages of equipment and faulty ventilators.
There is considerable data suggesting lockdowns have been effective at reducing infection rates and may have saved millions of lives worldwide. Two studies published last June, one by Imperial College in London and another by U.S. scientists in the journal Nature, found that lockdowns along with social distancing measures did significantly slow the virus infection rate.
There were outliers, however. Sweden is often upheld as an example of a nation that didn’t implement lockdowns yet compared favorably to other countries in terms of mortality and infection. However, critics of these claims point out that Sweden had a comparatively low population density and was less of an international transit hub than countries such as the U.K. Moreover, Sweden did worse than its Scandinavian neighbors in terms of COVID-19 deaths, and although it never imposed a lockdown on par with many other countries, it did institute some restrictions, such as bans on public gatherings and reduced business hours.
Within the same country, lockdown procedures and policies may differ widely. The World Health Organization warned that lockdowns should not be governments’ primary method of fighting COVID-19. A handful of governments in Asia – South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong – managed to keep the virus under control without lockdown measures. They managed to do so mainly by means of effective and efficient testing, contact tracing and self-quarantining.