A definitive review of how the United States and the world has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic is years away. But some early studies were not kind to those who touted draconian restrictions.
On Monday, Johns Hopkins researchers released a report finding that shutdowns and other measures implemented early in the pandemic reduced deaths by just 0.2% while creating a host of other problems.
“We find no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings had a noticeable effect on mortality from COVID-19,” wrote the researchers, who are all economists. .
Policy makers can be excused for their mistakes at the start of the pandemic. They were flying blind, and public health officials and medical professionals didn’t quite understand how things might play out. The most pessimistic models predicted millions of deaths and garnered inordinate media attention. Researchers at Imperial College London have estimated that draconian limitations designed to slow the spread of the virus could reduce death rates by 98%.
But two years into the pandemic – with highly effective vaccines available – a more sober analysis indicates the lockdown approach has failed to live up to its promise.
“We conclude that lockdowns are not an effective way to reduce death rates during a pandemic, at least not during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Johns Hopkins team wrote. At the same time, “they have helped reduce economic activity, increase unemployment, reduce school attendance, cause political unrest, contribute to domestic violence, and undermine liberal democracy.”
Interestingly, the study found that targeted closures of non-essential businesses may have had a small effect – 10% – on COVID mortality. But even that wasn’t enough to overcome the many problems the shutdowns unleashed.
“Lockdowns have limited people’s access to safe (outdoor) places such as beaches, parks and zoos, or included outdoor mask mandates or strict outdoor gathering restrictions, pushing people to meet in less safe (indoor) places,” the study found. “Indeed, we find evidence that limiting gatherings was counterproductive and increased mortality from COVID-19.”
Critics of the report argue that the researchers – who had previously criticized many virus restrictions – had a preconceived agenda. But there has been little academic evidence supporting the effectiveness of closures or school closures. And many politicians seem uninterested in having the effectiveness of their policies subjected to rigorous scrutiny.
“What is really troubling is the lack of interest from governments to properly assess these drastic social interventions, compared to investments in vaccine and drug research,” said Robert Dingwall, UK government COVID adviser. , to the London Daily Mail. “We should not debate attempts to make sense of poor quality data, but consider well-designed studies conducted alongside lockdowns. The public inquiry will have to ask why such works were not commissioned.