I’ve written about lockdowns before. In Lockdowns Historically Failed, we discussed the historical record of lockdowns going back to 1918 and the Spanish flu pandemic. In reviewing that history, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report in 2006 which concluded “forced isolation and quarantine are ineffective and impractical.” In 2009, a statement was written in a report by medical historian John Barry, that said, “Historical data clearly demonstrate that quarantine does not work unless it is absolutely rigid and complete” – a standard that not even the U.S. military was able to achieve.
More recently, in The Economics of Lockdowns, I reported on the economic analysis from the University of Chicago. Economists Tomas J. Philipson and Casey B. Mulligan said, “Reducing the incidence of disease isn’t necessarily desirable if excessive prevention, in the form of lockdowns or school closures, is more costly to society than the damage done by an illness.”
The rationale for all these lockdowns has always been to contain the spread of the virus and to “save lives.” We have tolerated this new world of lost freedom mostly in the hope that we were indeed saving lives. Indeed, that has been the mantra of our politicians and public-health officials. But what if they were actually wrong? What if all those lockdowns didn’t really save lives?
Now we know the answer to those questions. James Freeman, writing in The Wall Street Journal tells us of a new report from Johns Hopkins economist Steve Hanke, and from other researchers in Denmark and Sweden. They employed a systematic search and screening procedure in which 18,590 studies are identified that could potentially address the belief posed. After three levels of screening, 34 studies ultimately qualified for final analysis. Of these, 24 qualified for inclusion in their meta-analysis.
The study authors said, “This systemic review and meta-analysis are designed to determine whether there is empirical evidence to support the belief that “lockdowns” reduce COVID-19 mortality. Lockdowns are defined as the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI).”
The 24 studies were separated into three groups: lockdown stringency index studies, shelter-in place order (SIPO) studies, and specific NPI studies. They report, “An analysis of each of these three groups support the conclusion that lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality. More specifically, stringency index studies find that lockdowns in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average. SIPOs were also ineffective, only reducing COVID-19 mortality by 2.9% on average. Specific NPI studies also find no broad-based evidence of noticeable effects on COVID-19 mortality.
There you have the answer – lockdowns reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% – 2.9% or not at all. Sure, the lives saved in that 0.2% – 2.9% are important, but at what cost? We don’t know the answer in terms of increased deaths due to suicides from mental illness, increased deaths from drug abuse overdoses, increased deaths due to undiagnosed, treatable cancers because people didn’t go for regular screening exams, increased deaths due to uncontrolled diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. Those are all very real costs of lockdowns.
But we do have some information on the economic costs. A report from WSJ says, “The U.S. national debt exceeded $30 trillion for the first time, reflecting increased federal borrowing during the coronavirus pandemic. Total public debt outstanding was $30.01 trillion as of January 31, according to Treasury Department data released Tuesday. That was a nearly $7 trillion increase from late January 2020, just before the pandemic hit the U.S. economy.”
This should be the last word on the issue of lockdowns. Any politician or public-health official calling for lockdowns in the future must be held accountable. In my business, they would call it malpractice.