‘A Lot of People Are Suffering’: Physicians Oppose Sweeping Lockdowns

‘A Lot of People Are Suffering’: Physicians Oppose Sweeping Lockdowns
People walk along a deserted street in Old Montreal on Nov. 18, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz)
Lee Harding

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says another lockdown is possible, but an increasingly vocal group of medical health experts are urging a more measured approach.

New cases of COVID-19 in Ontario exceeded 1,400 for the first time on Nov. 11. On Nov. 17, 1,249 new cases were reported, as were 12 deaths and 1,135 recoveries.

Ford tweeted, “We must always be prepared to change course as the situation evolves. We’re staring down the barrel of another lockdown, and I will not hesitate for a second if we have to go further, because our number one priority right now is getting these numbers down.”

Dr. Rob Sargeant, head of internal medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, told The Epoch Times he supported the lockdown in spring, but he now sees that “we have created additional problems and very likely some additional excess deaths due to the measures that were undertaken.”

“The evidence is that lockdowns destroy people, but somehow the narrative has gone completely in the opposite direction. … If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything is a nail. I think that’s the way this is unfolding, and a lot of people are suffering as a result.”

Sargeant was one of 20 doctors who signed an open letter to Ford on Sept. 30 that called for a “tactical localized approach, rather than sweeping new lockdown measures.”

Despite the recent rise in cases, Sargeant maintains that view today.

“It should be incumbent on people who suggest that all these things should be closed down to give us real, cast-iron proof as to why,” he said.

“From a medical perspective, COVID, COVID, COVID all the time has distracted us from the care that we provide for everything from cancer to other critical diseases like tuberculosis, which is making a comeback in this country now, because it’s just not on our radar screen.”

Sargeant said he’s concerned that if a broad lockdown happens in the run-up to the holiday season, it’ll sound the death knell for a large number of retail businesses.

“If we close them all now we have to accept the fact that a very, very large number of them are going to all go under while Amazon eats their lunch. And that is going to be devastating for our economy and for these people. So no I do not support that. I don’t think it’s fair to them.”

He adds that the “misplaced idea that we have to be focused on getting this virus down to as close to zero as possible” could inflict more harm in other ways.

In hindsight, he said, school shutdowns had “negative outcomes for our children who are completely safe, 100 percent safe,” as well as “young people and university-aged kids who are at such important pivotal points of their lives and their developments.”

On Nov. 17, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce suggested that similar measures could return since nearly 14 percent of the province’s schools are reporting at least one active case of COVID-19.

“The announcement we will unveil will be comprehensive and include a variety of elements, one of which can include something like an extended closure and online learning experience,” he said.

The proposition of school closures and renewed lockdowns also concerns Dr. James Douketis, a practising physician and professor of medicine at McMaster University, who also co-signed the letter to Ford.

“I’m very concerned as to the impact it would have in education and schools,” Douketis said in an interview. “Children are getting away from that learning environment that we think is so critical … and it will cause long-lasting negative impact.”

The government must look beyond the short-term goal of reducing case numbers, Douketis said.

“The premise of a lockdown has serious negative ramifications, but not in the present—more in the long term. And that’s what there has not been a focus on.”

Douketis said lockdowns in other jurisdictions showed “higher rates of mortality and morbidity related to cardiovascular disease like heart attacks and stroke.”

“So I am concerned how it would negatively impact on delivery of care for patients and similarly what it would have for delivery of care for other clinical domains like cancer and care screening, mental health … and people who may have substance abuse issues.”

In their letter, the doctors advocated for a more balanced or strategic approach, which would be less onerous in the long term, particularly given that COVID-19 may be here to stay.

“It’s not going away and it may never go away, like many other viruses. We have to learn to live with it,” said Douketis.

“The goal of eradicating it is so one-sided that it blinds us to so many other facets of health-care delivery and education delivery.”