Open universities up and resume face-to-face classes as normal.

“Public fear of Covid has been elevated to levels that are completely out of proportion to the actual danger,” said researcher of immunology Eshani M King. Measures against Covid-19, especially lockdowns, have caused many disruptions in daily life, including economy and education. Efforts by activists and student leaders were carried out to solve these problems, or at least mitigate them, but they do not go to the heart of the problem itself. A worthy question to be asked in the first place is: are the measures against Covid-19 justified?

I will be arguing in this article why university campuses should reopen and resume back to normal. I will be sharing why lockdowns are ineffective, how they bring much more harm than good, and also the alternatives against Covid-19.

Are lockdowns effective?

The reasons for such might sound intuitive. Nevertheless, there are legitimate and scientific reasons to say otherwise. In a peer-reviewed paper co-authored by one of the world’s most cited and respected scientist, Professor John Ioannidis of Stanford University, found out that there is no significant difference in the number of Covid-19 cases between 8 countries that did lockdowns and 2 countries that didn’t do lockdowns. In other words, lockdowns have no effect on case numbers.

One might bring up research that shows the effectiveness of lockdowns. Nevertheless, Dr Jay Bhattachraya (also one of the co-authors of the paper above) explained why this happens in a podcast with Sharyl Attkisson: the studies that show that lockdowns are effective are based on modelling, but the real world doesn’t act like models. In a real world, some people will have to go out of their houses and have to interact with each other, even in the strictest lockdown imaginable. Similarly, even in university campuses there will be a percentage of students who have to go through face-to-face classes. We will all have to go out to buy food and other essentials.

It’s not only the research above that has arrived at the conclusion that lockdowns and mass quarantining do not work, there has been numerous researches on this. The American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) displayed 30 studies that show the negative effects of lockdowns on virus control in their website. A remarkable study is by Chaudhry et al which looked at the data of 50 countries and concluded that “Rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and wide-spread testing were not associated with COVID-19 mortality per million people.”

I mean, you don’t even have to be a scientist to understand that lockdowns and MCOs are not effective. After a year, the MCO still failed to stop the pandemic.

If lockdowns do not work, then why are we doing it? Why are we stopping face-to-face classes for the majority of students? Why the online classes? Why do we restrict the movement of students? Why do we quarantine healthy (asymptomatic) individuals? Why are we still loyally obeying whatever the government says?

How dangerous is it: Putting Covid-19 into perspective

An important question to also ask is how dangerous is Covid-19? Covid-19 is dangerous but it is no way near in justifying lockdowns and restricting people’s movements.

According to the CDC, for those below the age of 50, the infection fatality rate is 0.0001%, which is much lower compared to the seasonal influenza which has an infection fatality rate of 0.01% among persons less than 50 years old. Professor John Ioannidis’s paper, published in WHO bulletin, showed that the infection fatality rate for those below 70 years is 0.05%- no deadlier than influenza.

Granted, the fatality rate among the elderly, particularly those older than 70 years old, is two to three times deadlier than influenza. For this reason, a group of public health experts and epidemiologists are suggesting what is called ‘Focused Protection’- where the young and healthy should be allowed to live their lives as normal and give better protection to those who are at much higher risk. As those who are at low risk mix together, herd immunity will build up faster, while also minimizing deaths and social harm that otherwise follows from lockdowns. As of today, 13,760 medical and public health scientists have signed the declaration.

I believe the suggestions pushed by the Great Barrington declaration should be listened to and debated among public health officials in Malaysia.

Cost of lockdowns

A study back in 2019 found out that the levels of anxiety among Malaysian students is 29%. This is consistent with previous findings stretching back to 2015 which showed that 30% of the population in Malaysia had mental health illnesses at least once in their lives. However, a study in 2020, which also used the same questionnaire (The Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale 7-item (GAD-7)) as the study in 2019, revealed that 57% of students were experiencing moderate or severe anxiety during COVID-19. It is quite evident that there has been a staggering increase in anxiety due to lockdowns.

What’s also surprising is that almost 52% of the students surveyed reported that their family income had reduced because of the lockdowns. The study found that the odds of being at higher anxiety increases by 1.7 times if the students’ family suffered reduction of income. Lockdowns undoubtedly have caused families to lose their source of income which has in turned cause increasing levels of anxiety among the people. Poor internet connection is also another factor which leads to higher anxiety. Spiced with daily reporting of the number of cases, as well as loneliness, it is a recipe for disaster. All of these wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for locking the whole country down.

Studies upon studies have also shown that social isolation is a significant risk factor of morbidity and mortality. Making people isolated from society doesn’t make them healthier, it makes that more susceptible to diseases.

In the IIUM Official Guidelines for returning students that was issued back in 11 February, Section 3.1.c. said that returning students have to remain on campus until the end of the semester. That means 5 months living in the campus without getting out and may not even return for Eid Ul Fitr celebration. Such guidelines are beyond absurd, in fact, they only harm students’ well-being due to prolonged isolation from families and friends.

Impact of emergency remote teaching and learning on quality of education

I’m sure there are some benefits to online learning but there are big disadvantages to it too. Social isolation gives a big impact to the human psyche. The effects are obvious: loss of motivation, anxiety, tension, loneliness, and so on. As humans, we need the human connection with each other, to see each other’s smiles, laughters, emotions, and body language in the class. Online learning has removed all of those from education and reduced it to merely information consuming devoid of human connection. I am also sure that some lecturers have felt that online classes have ripped them from the joys of teaching.

Education is also much larger than what happens in the classroom. Meeting new friends from classes, talks, workshops is no less of quality education. We learn a lot from the new friends we meet, their cultures, and their perspectives, especially in an institution which is a melting pot of cultures, like IIUM. I was lucky to meet friends from Yemen and Turkey during my first year.

Going to the library and exploring the treasure in it is also education. As law students, we need a lot of books to read, which are otherwise very expensive outside of the library. But the library is not only for law students, it is for everyone. It enables students to learn things that are also not in their specific fields. Those who are close to me know that I love to spend my time at the library and explore there. Closure of the campus has led me to be devoid of one of the greatest pleasures of life.

Alternatives, alternatives

“So what are you going to do? Just open up universities and let people die?” First of all, to say that by opening up universities we are letting people die is an ignorant response based on what I mentioned earlier about the fatality rate of Covid-19 put into perspective. If even a very miniscule percentage of death should be avoided, we should close universities even before the lockdown, and also close highways and put everybody under house arrest. We face a chance of dying everyday.

Nevertheless, there are ways to improve our chances of survival without actually decreasing quality of life. Firstly, is to practice basic hygiene like washing hands and staying home when sick.

The basics

Secondly, is to build up natural immunity against the coronavirus by doing things that are common sense, such as taking a healthy diet. A healthy diet means avoiding processed food, contains multivitamins, wholefood, eating mostly plants and not overeating. Besides a healthy diet, sleep is also essential in keeping our immune system in good shape. According to Dr Moran, sleep cannot be emphasised enough. Do not worry too much about your assignments, go to sleep at the same time every night and have six to eight hours of sleep every night.

Another thing is exercise. Obese people are at higher risk of covid complications. A research found that people with obesity is 113% more likely than people of healthy weight to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to an ICU, and 48% more likely to die.

Ironically, the covid fear campaign by the government and media rarely if never emphasise on these things but put too much emphasis on (debated) SOPs and vaccines- to the point of even filming its arrival.

Vitamin D and Ivermectin

Ivermectin is an antiparasitic drug. As for ivermectin, there should be no question about its effectiveness against Covid-19. To date, 46 trials by 371 scientists all over the world have shown positive effect on treating and preventing covid-19. 24 randomised controlled trials, which is the gold standard for drug trials, have shown positive results on treating and preventing covid-19 as well. There is no other drug that has shown better results than ivermectin. Uttar Pradesh, India, have shown real world experience of ivermectin. On August 22 2020, ivermectin was mass distributed in the region. What follows is a dramatic decrease in hospitalizations and morbidity.

Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with severity of Covid-19. A meta-analysis of 26 studies, published in Taylor & Francis, concluded that there is a positive association between vitamin D deficiency and the severity of the disease. The National Institutes of Health in the USA also published a study on its website which found out that vitamin D deficiency is “independently associated with mortality among critically ill patients.”

Realising the effectiveness of ivermectin, Dr Paul Marik, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, founded the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC Alliance) which suggests treatment and prophylactic (prevention) protocols with the use of ivermectin along with zinc, vitamin C and D. Watch his lecture with Dr Mobeen Syed here to know more about the protocol.

On January 22, the Ministry of Health announced that it would be conducting critical trials for ivermectin. As far as I am aware, there is still no further news on this. In a letter to FMT, Dr Musa Nordin and Dr Husna Musa urged to not cut corners for ivermectin. They wrote that the drug must be “scrutinised by the scientific discipline of placebo controlled, randomised controlled trial.” In the link I shared above, you can find 24 randomised controlled trials. In a letter to the New Straits Times, one of the authors being Clinical Pharmacologist & Toxicologist Prof Dr Mustafa Ali Mohd, said that the usual argument against ivermectin, that there is insufficient data to support its use, as “no longer valid today.”

It is still quite a marvelous amazement to me that the government simply accepts the vaccines without trials in Malaysia, but when it comes to ivermectin, clinical trials need to be conducted by them first despite the randomized controlled trials. Not to mention that ivermectin has been around for over 40 years, unlike the novel vaccines that use novel technology.

The reason why I decided to share these alternatives is to show that there is not much to fear about covid-19. If we start looking at the facts and stop being paranoid, we can beat the pandemic together. But this can only happen when there are dialogues and debates, along with transparency to the public.

Conclusion

All my findings are not based on whims, but are based on scientific papers. I have shown that not only lockdowns have no significant benefit, but also the virus itself is not as deadly as we thought it is. I have also presented the devastating costs of lockdowns among students. Finally I have also shared the alternatives against Covid-19 which are more efficient and do not bring disastrous social harms. Whereas, to this day, I still do not know the scientific basis of the university to restrict students’ movements.

Please don’t tell us to be patient, as we all have been patient for over a year. Who knows if this will be dragged for another year. The right time is now. Lockdowns and quarantine of healthy people have no proven benefit, besides bringing substantial harms. Universities should be open up and resume face-to-face classes as normal. SOPs on a voluntary basis. Social leaders like academicians, universities, members of Parliament, NGOs should start to look into the Great Barrington Declaration and propose to the government- but shouldn’t only stop there but also bring about debates and transparency. We students also should start questioning the government and university measures. University students should act as the ‘opposing force’ to the abuses by the government- as they are many and comprise a large amount of the intellectual society.

Please do not be naive to think that the authorities always know the best and are acting for our good. Learn from history that the most destructive societies are also the most authoritarian. It is not only our right, but also a duty to question authorities and demand transparency.

It is also no longer a secret that scientists that are questioning the mainstream narrative are being suppressed and censored. This is not a conspiracy theory, it is happening, and in fact bias in science is not a new thing. Science can and has been politicised even before 2020. Physician and executive editor of the British Medical Journal, Kamran Abbasin wrote an article entitled “Covid-19: politicisation, “corruption,” and suppression of science” where he exposes how politicians and the pharmaceutical industry, along with scientists and public health experts, are sleeping in bed together. In his words, the pandemic “has revealed how the medical-political complex can be manipulated in an emergency—a time when it is even more important to safeguard science.”

In Malaysia, with the covid-19 data not being opened to the public, and the draconian fake news ordinance, what is happening now is the antithesis of good science and healthy government-people relationship. This is the time where we stand up, and refuse to lick their backs. With that, I would like to propose some call-to-actions for people reading this piece:

  1. Individuals: Build awareness by reading more. Most of the sources (links) above are a good start. Follow both mainstream and non-mainstream researchers and scientists in social media (that’s how I started). Share this article to family and friends. Please do not think that just because you’re an individual you do not have power to change society.
  2. Kulliyyah-Based Societies: Open up discussions about Covid-19, and let students discuss ideas together against Covid-19. For pure sciences, they can start to look at the research papers for/against lockdowns (like the Great Barrington Declaration), as well as the alternatives treatments to Covid-19, like ivermectin. Submit findings to the student union. Law students can discuss the legality of the university restricting people’s movements.These are examples.
  3. Student Union: Propose to the administration of the university to reopen campuses and resume face-to-face lectures as normal, as well as to let students to go in and out of campus. Set up discussions or debates. Build awareness among students.

“O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Aware of what you do.”- Quran, 5:8

By : Alif Mustaqim bin Shukri (1915071)

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