controversial | 

Covid lockdowns only reduced deaths by 0.2 per cent controversial study claims

However, biases of the report's authors, who have been vocal about lockdowns and vaccine mandates on social media, have been called into question

Penneys on Dublin's O'Connell St during the pandemic. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

A controversial new report has suggested that coronavirus lockdowns had “little to no” effect on pandemic death tolls in the US, UK and Europe, and only reduced Covid mortality by 0.2 per cent.

A group led by the head of Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics analysed studies from the first surge of the pandemic.

They found that draconian restrictions imposed in spring 2020 — including stay-at-home orders, compulsory masks and social distancing may have been “counterproductive” and even “increased” the death rate.

However, it adds that closing nonessential shops was found to be the most effective intervention, leading to a 10.6 per cent drop in virus fatalities.

Their report, which has not been peer-reviewed, said that this was probably due to shutting pubs and restaurants where alcohol is consumed. School closures were linked to a smaller 4.4 per cent decrease.

The group have been accused of “cherry-picking” studies to suit their narrative by fact-checking sites.

The research was led by Steve Hanke, founder and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, along with a professor from Sweden and a special adviser at the Center for Political Studies in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Hanke, who is a founder of the Johns Hopkins School of Applied Economics, has been an outspoken critic of economically-damaging restrictions throughout the pandemic.

He has previously described jab mandates as “fascist” and was an open supporter of the Great Barrington Declaration - a controversial alternative strategy endorsed by thousands of top scientists at the start of the pandemic.

The GBR - signed before vaccines were on the horizon - advocated shielding the most elderly and allowing the virus to spread in younger age groups, to build up natural immunity.

For this new study, the Johns Hopkins researchers — who deal in the field of economics, rather than medicine or public health — originally identified 18,590 global studies into lockdowns, which they whittled down to just 24 to answer their research question.

As a result they found that early lockdowns “have had devastating effects", the authors insisted, and “contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy”.

“Such a standard benefit-cost calculation leads to a strong conclusion: lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument,” the authors said of the “ill-founded” measures.

However, they have been accused of “cherry-picking” studies to suit their narrative and the biases of its authors, who have been vocal about lockdowns and vaccine mandates on social media, have been called into question.

Most scientists believe that, before the arrival of vaccines and antivirals, lockdowns had a significant effect on cutting transmission and therefore reducing the number of hospital admissions and deaths caused by Covid.

The researchers also left out studies which looked at early lockdowns in countries which managed to suppress Covid and record extremely low death rates during the pandemic through incredibly strict lockdowns and border controls — such as China, Australia and New Zealand.

The authors acknowledge this by saying: “One objection to our conclusions may be that we do not look at the role of timing. If timing is very important, differences in timing may empirically overrule any differences in lockdowns.”

They add: “Including these studies will greatly overestimate the effect of lockdowns, and, hence, we chose not to include studies focusing on timing of lockdowns in our review.”

The fact-checking website Truth Or Fiction criticised the latest paper for selecting papers that suited the authors' own opinions.

On the website, they point out that research and case studies have shown that lockdowns are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19, therefore flattening the curve.

“The World Health Organization’s recommendation on curfews and lockdowns is that they should be short-term measures to reorganize, regroup, rebalance resources, and protect health workers who are exhausted,” they write.

“To achieve a balance between restrictions and normal life, the WHO recommends a response to the pandemic that consists of strict personal hygiene, effective contact tracing, and isolating when ill."

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