Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Do lockdowns and media coverage weaken our immune system?

First off a disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. What follows are some thoughts and observations based on what I have read over the years and that got me thinking in light of current events. More specifically the psychological and (indirect) physical effects of government measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

It is well known that chronic stress affects the immune system. Look at the many studies and articles that either directly relate one to the other, or that deal with ways to reduce stress. Why reduce stress if it is not harmful? And if it is harmful, i.e. not good for our health, it implies that it has a negative effect on our immune system. Someone who is more prone to health issues, by definition, has a weaker immune system.

Lockdown measures and media coverage

Since the beginning of this pandemic, there has been nothing but panicky reporting in the mainstream media and, as a result, on social media. Pardon the sarcasm, but if we were to believe the reporting in the media, overpopulation would no longer be a problem by now.

Families have lost loved ones due to Covid-19 and that should not be downplayed. But neither should any loss of life no matter what the cause. And that cause should not be hidden or falsified just to spread even more fear. By now it is well known that many of those who died during the height of the pandemic already suffered from underlying medical issues that made them more susceptible to serious infections. This was never reported as such.

I know it is not done to compare the current pandemic to a severe case of the flu, but we should also acknowledge that the statistics are not that dissimilar, especially when taking into account that many people receive flu vaccines every year. To really compare the two one should compare flu infections and fatalities from periods when flu vaccines were not yet available. It is the novelty of the virus (is it really?) and the absence of vaccination that accounts for widespread infections and concentrated fatalities.

People die from the flu as well, but we don’t wear masks or practice social distancing during flu season. Why? Because the fatalities are spread over time; they do not occur all at the same time and thus are less visible. Moreover, you don’t hear about them on the evening news.

When a commercial plane crashes it is usually nationwide front-page news. Following the widespread media coverage, people are less inclined to travel by air in the weeks following the crash or are more anxious than usual. Yet, they happily get in their car each and every day, when the probability of dying in regular traffic is far greater than dying in a plane crash. It is a large number of casualties in a short period of time combined with widespread media coverage that causes us to respond differently and maybe even irrationally.

The deaths are to be regretted, for sure, but my point is that there was, and still is, a lot of panic- and fearmongering by the media and government officials. Why? To purposely instill fear, such that we are more willing to accept any measure, including the limitation or outright suspension of basic freedoms? Or, are officials just as ignorant and fear-stricken as the rest of us? Maybe. Nevertheless, judging by the facts, we are now willing to accept just about anything, without question, all the while ignoring other issues. Not all deaths seem to be judged equally.

Data have already shown that suicide numbers are above trend, and psychologists and psychiatrists have long waiting lists. People needing urgent medical treatments, e.g. cancer patients, don’t show up for their appointments because they are afraid to even approach a hospital. On the other hand, many procedures and screenings simply have been canceled or postponed by the medical profession. How many lives have been potentially lost in these instances?

And what about the effects of lockdowns and business closures. Many people are temporarily unemployed or have outright lost their job. To attenuate their situation, unemployment benefits have been temporarily increased, but it is not sure the increase will be extended indefinitely if the pandemic lasts longer still. Trying to find a job in a period of forced lockdowns is not really a picnic either. Many of these people live in uncertainty, and undoubtedly experience a great deal of stress.

Not only employees live in uncertainty. Also (small) business owners are not offered a clear perspective. They are forced to close down, not knowing for how long. After the first wave, they were allowed to reopen, until a second wave hit, forcing them once again to close their doors. They now not only face the uncertainty of the duration of the lockdown period; there is also the added uncertainty that once they are allowed to reopen, the government can at any time and without notice force them to close again.

This sets a dangerous precedent that is not conducive to entrepreneurship and creates a very uncertain economic environment. Economic uncertainty only adds to already elevated stress levels. Big businesses have been relatively unscathed — especially the tech companies and online retailers — but have not all been spared. Think about the hospitality business, travel, airlines, etc. A lot of big businesses in those sectors have been hit hard. The point is that governments have shown that, driven by fear and panic, they are willing to risk just about anything, unwillingly adding to the number of fatalities along the way. If not directly, then certainly indirectly.

Placebo

That people do live in fear can be easily demonstrated by publicly — however nuanced the argument — questioning the reporting on the number of cases. There will be no corner left to hide in.

Yet, it is well documented that the PCR tests that are used to detect the presence of some strand of DNA that also is present in the current virus, have a considerable rate of false positives. Moreover, if the spread of the virus is as rapid as we are made to believe, then many more infections have taken place than are reported. Infections without serious health consequences because people were asymptomatic or because they only felt mildly sick and did not think anything of it. In the media, though, the fatality rates are reported as a percentage of confirmed cases, thus overstating fatality rates as a percentage. Those numbers were then cited to stress the seriousness of this virus as compared to the flu. Yet, fatality rates for the latter are expressed as a percentage of total (estimated) infections and not confirmed cases.

Now, with increased testing, the number of confirmed infections has also gone up, leading to new and/or tighter restrictions placed on the population. It no longer is about fatalities; the mere increase of infections justifies lockdowns and the closing down of (small) businesses. Even if those infected have no major physical complaints whatsoever. Rather than feeling reassured that not everyone who is infected actually suffers serious health consequences, we now are made to panic over the rise in infections, without any reference to fatalities or even hospitalizations. Those that were previously ignored in the data on fatality rates are now used to justify more and more restrictive measures. Yet, nobody poses any questions.

The fear that has been instilled in the population, combined with the high percentage of false positives of the PCR test, also works in another way. While there are people that might have been infected with the virus and thought nothing of it because they only had mild symptoms or none at all, many others are so panicked that they rush to the ER the moment they experience even the most minor of symptoms. Since the overall climate is one of fear, they are tested as quickly as possible.

Now, suppose that the test falsely indicates that they are indeed infected with COVID-19, but in reality are only suffering from the flu or even a (severe) cold. How would you feel if, at the height of the pandemic and with all the horror stories appearing in the media and on television, someone told you that you are infected with such a “dangerous” virus? I guess that many people suddenly feel a lot sicker than they would if they had been told they had come down with the flu. It is the placebo effect in reverse. People start putting all sorts of ideas and images in their heads, adding to their already elevated stress levels, and thereby exacerbating their condition. Belief is a very powerful force, and in a climate of global fear, it is a mainly negative one. People have actually died from imaginary diseases and conditions, just as they have cured of actual diseases by believing they got treatment when in actuality they didn’t.

New cells are generated in our bodies each and every day. Those cells grow in energy fields that are generated by our beliefs and environment. Would new cells thrive better in a positive or a negative energy field? And what is the current environment like? In psychology, there exists a phenomenon called emotional contagion, the fact that people are affected by external stimuli they are predominantly confronted with. One such study took more than 600,000 Facebook users and manipulated the messages that appeared on their timeline to be mainly of a negative nature. What the researchers noticed was that the messages the users posted themselves were also much more negative than before. In the current environment, fear might have spread even faster than the virus. How will newly generated cells develop in a general climate of uncertainty, fear, and stress?

Conclusion

In short, we should not ignore the psychological effects of government decrees, news reporting, and other fear-laden reporting on our health and well-being. It is also well to keep in mind that what we focus upon, i.e. what we give energy to, grows. We should try to guard our psychological health and well-being as it has a direct effect on our physical health. Try not to get caught up in the negativity and fear-inducing “propaganda” that is currently so rampant.

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