Covid-19: Leading public health expert ‘irate’ over WHO lockdown advice

A leading Covid-19 expert is “irate” after a World Health Organisation (WHO) official asked world leaders to stop using lockdowns as a primary method of controlling the pandemic.

WHO’s special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro​, told British magazine The Spectator that lockdowns should only be used to buy authorities time to set up systems that allow society to live with the virus.

But his comments are “inappropriate” and don’t apply to New Zealand and other Pacific countries where lockdowns have worked, according to epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker, who advises the New Zealand Government on Covid-19.

“David Nabarro is one of their most senior advisors and is quite fond of pronouncing some things,” he said.

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Michael Baker says lockdowns have worked in New Zealand.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Michael Baker says lockdowns have worked in New Zealand.

“When they are referring to lockdown they mean for suppression, but for countries pursuing elimination – lockdown has saved us. This advice is certainly inappropriate for New Zealand.”

The WHO is Eurocentric and focused on low income countries, he explained. It has “consistently” given advice not fit for New Zealand.

“They delayed declaring a pandemic, and said countries shouldn’t close their borders, and their advice now is against lockdown.

“That is the opposite of what has succeeded in this region.”

China, which has a has mostly eliminated Covid-19 after putting tens of millions of its citizens into quarantine, broke a two-month streak with no virus transmission on Monday, when nine cases linked to a hospital were announced.

“China is protecting 1.4 billion people. Their economy is thriving, and they‘ve got a very low mortality rate – even lower than us,” Baker said.

Dr Margaret Harris, spokesperson for the World Health Organisation, said it sees lockdowns as a final resort, after public health measures and contact tracing haven’t worked.

“We are not saying you can’t do them, but we are saying it wasn’t the first thing you,” she said on RNZ’s Morning Report.

“If you got to a point where the virus is racing ahead of you, then you take the drastic measures.”

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