Many US states and countries around the world are imposing another round of economic lockdowns in an effort to combat the coronavirus.
The actions are certain to come with a series of devastating unintended consequences—economic destruction, surging poverty, and mental health deterioration among them—but a new study suggests the lockdowns may not do what they are designed to do: save lives.
A new study published by Frontiers in Public Health concluded that neither lockdowns nor lockdown stringency were correlated with lower death rates.
Researchers analyzed data from 160 countries over the first 8 months of the pandemic, testing several factors—including demographics, public health, economy, politics, and environment—to determine how they are correlated with COVID-19 mortality.
“Stringency of the measures settled to fight pandemia, including lockdown, did not appear to be linked with death rate,” the researchers said.
The researchers found that the criteria most associated with a high death rate was life expectancy, though higher COVID death rates were also observed in certain geographic regions.
“Inherent factors have predetermined the COVID mortality: understanding them may improve prevention strategies by increasing population resilience through better physical fitness and immunity,” the authors said.
On one hand, the findings are astonishing. After all, the lockdowns have resulted in mass collateral damage: a global recession, millions of businesses ravaged, tens of millions of jobs lost, widespread mental health deterioration, a resurgence in global poverty, and surges in suicide.
To look at the destruction lockdowns have wrought only to learn they have failed to effectively slow the spread of the virus is maddening and, frankly, nauseating.
On the other hand, the findings shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Months ago researchers had compiled enough empirical evidence to determine how effective lockdowns were in taming COVID-19.
“...there’s little correlation between the severity of a nation’s restrictions and whether it managed to curb excess fatalities — a measure that looks at the overall number of deaths compared with normal trends,” Bloomberg’s data columnist Elaine He noted back in May.
Since then the evidence has only grown stronger. Sweden, for example, which opted to not lockdown in March, has seen its mortality ranking steadily fall throughout 2020.
In September, as it passed the US, Sweden saw its COVID mortality rate fall to 11th highest in the world. Its rate of 577 COVID deaths per million people was far better than many of its European neighbors who implemented strict lockdowns, such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium, and Italy. Since then, Sweden has fallen further down the list, currently standing at 23rd in the world.
While critics of Sweden’s “lighter touch” strategy point out that its mortality rate is well above that of its Nordic counterparts Norway and Finland, many fail to realize that Norway and Finland have had less restrictive government policies than Sweden for the majority of the pandemic.
The reality is that lockdowns come with incredible collateral damage but appear to do little if anything to actually slow down the coronavirus. This is precisely why the World Health Organization reversed course in October and began advising nations to refrain from using them.
“Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer,” Dr. David Nabarro, the WHO's Special Envoy on COVID-19, observed.
Dr. Michael Ryan, Director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, offered a similar sentiment.
"What we want to try to avoid ... is these massive lockdowns that are so punishing to communities, to society and to everything else,” Ryan said at a briefing in Geneva in October, adding that sometimes they are "unavoidable."
Despite mounting evidence that lockdowns don’t work and are incredibly harmful, government officials around the world continue to push them. Why? Because lockdowns are designed to save lives and experts are unwilling to admit they are powerless to control the virus.
In doing so, they’re falling victim to a dangerous deception: the good intentions fallacy.
“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results,” the famed economist Milton Friedman once warned.
It’s time for the intellectual class to admit a basic reality about lockdowns.
They aren’t just horribly destructive and an affront to liberty. They’re actually failing to save lives.