Billionaire and outspoken boss of Tesla and SpaceX has never been coy about voicing his opinion on the coronavirus and how it has been handled. He recently confirmed in an interview with the New York Times that he and his family will not be getting a coronavirus vaccine saying that he is ‘not at risk for COVID, nor are my kids.’ Musk is very active on Twitter and constantly criticises the responses to contain the virus as ‘Fascist’ as well as stating that the coronavirus panic is ‘dumb’. In a memo that was sent to his SpaceX employees Musk wrote that they were far less likely to die from coronavirus than from car crashes. However Musk does conscend that coronavirus if not (as in his opinion) poses a threat to him and his family that it could to others. ‘I think the reality of Covid is that it is dangerous if you’re elderly and have preexisting conditions’ he told the Times in July.’It absolutely makes sense to have a lockdown if you’re vulnerable, but I do not think it makes sense to have a lockdown if you’re not vulnerable,’ Musk was enraged by the lockdowns imposed in the United States tweeting ‘Free America Now.’ His criticism of the stay at home orders coincided with a time he was close to securing a 750m payout from a bonus scheme linked to Tesla’s share price. Musk threatened to move his Tesla production factory from Fremont south of San Francisco. ‘Frankly this is the final straw.’ he tweeted. ‘Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately.’ Musk was most probably specifically referring to an order made in the six county San Francisco Bay area which forced Tesla to close the Fremont plant from March 23rd and which order was ultimately extended until the end of May. On May 11, a rebellious Musk declared that his Fremont plant would reopen. ‘Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.’ he tweeted. Whether this threat will ultimately be followed through with is uncertain, but there is no doubt that the model of response to the Pandemic that Sweden has controversially adhered to is one that Musk sees as a sensible and rational approach.
FORCED LOCKDOWN OR FREEDOM OF CHOICE?
While the rest of the world was enduring a mostly complete lockdown with some countries imposing and enforcing by law seemingly draconian restrictions, Sweden kept all of its businesses, schools and economy open and their citizens had no restrictions imposed on their civil liberties Six months later, as cases once again surge through Europe, Sweden who faced the virus full on without masks or a lockdown gives the impression that life has returned to normal. In May Swedish Epidemiologist Dr. Johan Giesecke explained that coronavirus lockdowns are not evidence-based and said that they are wrong. He doesn’t stand alone on this. Dr. Sunetra Gupta of the University of Oxford, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University are heading a group of doctors and scientists who are urging governments around the world to end as they describe them: ‘devastating lockdowns’ They were shadow banned on google when their proposal entitled the ‘Great Barrington Declaration’ that was signed by an international group of Scientists providing ideas on how to combat the coronavirus pandemic was posted. In a tweet referring to this Toby Young said: ‘Google ‘Great Barrington Declaration.’ It doesn’t show up. It’s been shadow banned. Discussion of it has also been censored by Reddit. It’s not a conspiracy theory, not misinformation, not part of the “infodemic.” Big tech is just censoring dissent.’ Why this proposal has been removed from the internet is not clear. The debatable issue is how effective are lockdowns? Do they work and are they sustainable? The options for different approaches are often touted as unscientific (although many scientists are against them) not effective and downright dangerous. But are they?
HERD IMMUNITY, ELIMINATION OR CONTROL?
Sweden has repeatedly claimed that the goal in their response to the Pandemic is not to achieve ‘natural’ herd immunity although they have repeatedly said that they would soon manifest ‘herd immunity’ and have referred to it as a beneficial consequence of their overall strategy. The death of many elderly swedish residents as a result of this choice is evident. Anders Tegnell Sweden’s Chief epidemiologist who has overseen the coronavirus response has publicly promoted ‘Sweden’s herd immunity approach’ which involves ‘a controlled spread of the virus among the under-60’’ and a ‘tolerable spread among the over 60’s’ This strategy led by late March to 30 Covid-19 patients being admitted to Intensive Care Units (ICU) everyday and by early April, Sweden was recording about 90 deaths daily from the virus, however Tegnell has been hailed by many as ‘an icon of freedom’ amongst those such as Musk who find the strategies of restrictive lockdowns to fight the virus as a controlling und unnecessary breach of their civil liberties and an unsustainable economic catastrophe which will ultimately result in more deaths as a consequence of the repercussions of the lockdowns. The undeniably negative effects from the worldwide lockdowns are clear. Suicide rates are increasing. Domestic violence has reached unprecedented levels and many people are succumbing to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety exacerbated by many factors including social isolation, financial distress and fear of the future. Young people who are not able to go to school or play sports are being severely stressed as are their parents who have to deal with them. In countries that were already struggling financially before the lockdown the severity of their living standards is in freefall. In some countries people are going hungry as they do not have the means to feed their families. Millions of people worldwide have lost their jobs, their homes and face an even grimmer future. Lockdowns are not fun, they wreak economic havoc and they allow us little freedom to fully live and enjoy our lives. If this is the case why are the majority of countries using them as a strategy to combat coronavirus, which for some countries is morphing into one lockdown of varying degrees one after another? While some countries like New Zealand are aiming for ‘elimination’ of the virus, most are using lockdowns as a form of controlling outbreaks by enforcing social distancing, thus reducing infections and ultimately deaths. If a ‘Herd Immunity’ response is undertaken there will initially be many deaths affecting elderly people, those with preexisting health conditions and the poorer and less advantaged in the community. As there are many aspects of the virus that some scientists say are not yet known there is the worry about how many people would actually need to be sacrificed before this immunity is achieved. Most countries are depending on an effective vaccine to bring about herd immunity than actually bringing it on by letting the ‘virus rip.’ The majority of countries dismiss Sweden’s coronavirus response as ‘too risky, irresponsible and immoral’ However if continuous lockdowns are used to control the spread of the virus with each one making us more vulnerable to other negative side effects that these enforced restrictions manifest, could it be that ‘the cure is worse than the problem’ which is what many anti lockdown believers say?
Musk believes that instead of unilateral stay-at-home orders to control the spread of the virus that ‘anyone who is at risk should be quarantined until the storm passes.’ This in fact sounds permissible in theory, but as more and more people acquired the virus those that were isolated would need to remain so and the job of keeping people in this way without any contact with others who could contract the disease and therefore pass it on to the vulnerable groups would be extremely challenging. The world would potentially be divided into two groups of citizens, those that went back to a relatively normal way of living but millions of others cocooned away, living in fear of infection and the real threat of demise it would inflict. When Musk was asked if his idea was followed with the possibility that people would still die he replied. ‘Everyone dies… the question is what on balance, serves the greater good.’ Musk also acknowledges that the Pandemic is a ‘no win situation.’ Everybody does die. Musk is correct and this analogy can be compared to the soldiers and civilians who are sacrificed in war times. The people that are killed in tragedies such as fires, hurricanes and other calamities that are sadly becoming more commonplace due to our worlds changing climate. So what then is the difference between a ‘a coronavirus sacrifice of life’ in comparison to a war where people purposefully follow a goal to kill as many of each other as possible? If the reason is a moral one then we as a civilization have come a long way. Instead of ripping the band aid off like Sweden whose daily death rates have now plateaued, the rest of the world is playing the waiting game on a vaccine that will provide ‘herd immunity.’ How long the wait will be and how many more lockdowns with their own debilitating effects will need to be re-enacted before this occurs is as uncertain as the longevity of Sweden’s ability to prove the world wrong and show its critics that the ‘Swedish way’ can sometimes turn out to be the only option.