When the WHO special envoy for covid-19, the British David Nabarro, expressed himself in that way in an interview with The Spectator magazine, he certainly did not imagine the storm that his words would produce.
“The confinements have a consequence that we must never underestimate: they make the poor much poorer,” said Nabarro.
Shortly thereafter, numerous media outlets and personalities began to report that WHO had withdrawn in support of the confinements. The President of the United States, Donald Trump, went so far as to say that the organization was agreeing with him.
“The World Health Organization has just admitted that I was right. Confinements are killing countries all over the world. The cure cannot be worse than the problem (…). A long battle, but they finally did the thing right, “Trump said on Monday through his Twitter account.
The position of the American president is the same as that of the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro (without a party), who has repeatedly criticized the social isolation measures adopted by states and cities in the country, warning that the damage to the economy could be worse than the impacts of pandemic itself.
At a meeting with farmers in September, the president said that the defenses against the need for isolation were “soft talk”. “This is for the weak. The virus, I always said, was a reality, and we had to face it. Nothing to chicken out in the face of what we cannot escape from it,” said Bolsonaro
In most of Brazil, milder isolation measures have been adopted, but in cities in some states, periods of confinement have been applied by court order or by decision of mayors or governors.
In reaction to this, the Bolsonaro government issued a provisional measure to concentrate on the federal executive the power to establish rules on this matter. The issue ended up in the Supreme Federal Court, which decided that states and municipalities were empowered to determine isolation measures.
‘Another weapon from the arsenal’
In response to Trump’s comment, Nabarro said the problem is using confinements as the “primary means of controlling” the coronavirus. A WHO spokeswoman, Margaret Ann Harris, clarified that this has always been the position of the organization, which has never failed to consider confinement “one more weapon in the arsenal” to combat the pandemic.
“What we’ve always said is that confinements can help to buy some time, especially if there is intense community transmission,” explained Harris.
“You may find yourself in a situation where transmission is intense and, for different reasons, it is not possible to identify or track all those infected. In this case, it may be necessary to stop the spread of the virus using confinement.”
“But we would like to see governments and communities continually apply all other things that can help stem the spread of the virus,” insisted the WHO spokeswoman.
At the individual level, this includes hand washing, physical distance, wearing masks and avoiding close contacts, crowds and poorly ventilated spaces.
“At the government level, we would like to see better testing and tracking systems, which ensure that all cases and contacts of infected people are actually identified and that ensure that all these people are isolated for as long as necessary,” said Harris.
“If all of this is done, and there are many countries that have done very well, transmission is reduced and society can be kept functioning.”
All of these points were also raised by Nabarro during his interview, in which he also acknowledged that confinements could be justified “to save time, reorganize, regroup, redistribute resources and protect health workers”.
“We really ask world leaders to stop using confinements as their primary method of control. Develop better systems for this. Work together and learn from each other,” he told The Spectator.
For Harris, that last point is the most important. “Nabarro was emphasizing that in some places governments may not be focusing on other measures and are jumping directly into confinements and warning that this is not the way,” he said.
“In order for us to be able to live safely while the virus is circulating, we have to take all other measures consistently.”
For the WHO spokeswoman, many measures and restrictions must continue to be implemented even after the vaccine is made available, to ensure the safety of those who are not yet protected by it.
And the spokeswoman also stressed that, in the current circumstances, the lack of confinement should not be interpreted as a return to normality.
“This has been a common mistake. When confinement is lifted, people act as if they have come out of prison and say, ‘Now we are going to take revenge’.”
Have you watched our new videos on YouTube? Subscribe to our channel!