It is the conventional wisdom in some quarters that it is a mark of courage and leadership if a politician is willing to grimly vow to lockdown he U.S. economy again, if “the scientists” recommend this course of action.
An impressive group of international scientists, including some of the world’s top epidemiologists, economists and journalists, is not about to demand a lockdown. This group has just issued the Great Barrington Declaration that is skeptical of lockdowns. The scientists propose an alternative strategy they call “focused protection.”
The declaration came out of a meeting hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research. The authors of the statement, coming from both the left and right of the political spectrum, state that current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects, short-term and long-term, on people’s health. The underprivileged are “disproportionately harmed” by these policies.
Taking note of the Great Barrington Declaration and other scientific studies, City Journal’s John Tierney calls the lockdowns “A Failed Experiment” that must be ended. Tierney writes:
While the economic and social costs have been enormous, it’s not clear that the lockdowns have brought significant health benefits beyond what was achieved by people’s voluntary social distancing and other actions. Some researchers have credited lockdowns with slowing the pandemic, but they’ve relied on mathematical models with assumptions about people’s behavior and the virus’s tendency to spread—the kinds of models and assumptions that previously produced wild overestimates of how many people would die during the pandemic. Other researchers have sought more direct evidence, looking at mortality patterns. They have detected little impact.
In a comparison of 50 countries, a team led by Rabail Chaudhry of the University of Toronto found that Covid was deadlier in places with older populations and higher rates of obesity, but the mortality rate was no lower in countries that closed their borders or enforced full lockdowns. After analyzing 23 countries and 25 U.S. states with widely varying policies, Andrew Atkeson of UCLA and fellow economists found that the mortality trend was similar everywhere once the disease took hold: the number of daily deaths rose rapidly for 20 to 30 days, and then fell rapidly.
It is possible, Tierney observes, that lockdowns helped in a few places and that these positive results were not picked up in studies. But available evidence does not support our risky and ruinous experiment with lockdowns. A more focused approach, as put forward by the Great Barrington authors, could definitely save lives, while not producing other disastrous results.
As Tierney concludes:
No one wants to hasten the demise of the elderly, but they and other vulnerable people can be shielded without shutting down the rest of the society, as Sweden and other countries have demonstrated. Sweden was denounced early in the pandemic by lockdown proponents because of its relatively high death rate—and it did initially flounder in protecting nursing homes—but its overall mortality rate is now lower than that of the United States and some other European countries. The rate is higher than that of its Nordic neighbors, but mainly because of demographic differences and other factors not related to its failure to shut down.
None of these facts, though, gets as much as attention as the daily case counts for Covid. Nor do all the unseen casualties: the people dying from heart disease, cancer, suicide, and other causes related to lockdowns and economic distress. Early in the pandemic, Scott Atlas at the Hoover Institution and researchers at Swansea University independently calculated that the lockdowns would ultimately cost more
to be worse in poor countries. The World Bank estimates that the coronavirus recession could push 60 million people into extreme poverty, which inevitably means more disease and death.
The lockdowns may have been justified in the spring, when so little was known about the virus and the ways to contain it. But now that we know more, there’s no ethical justification for continuing this failed experiment.