Let's be honest: The lockdowns destroyed many lives and saved no one
This truly is the greatest social policy failure in modern history
As the tide of public opinion turns against lockdowns, Canadians are witnessing the eruption of what could very well turn out to be the defining social movement of a generation.
Thousands of truck drivers and supporters are driving across our immense nation and descending on Ottawa for this weekend’s “Freedom Convoy 2022” to protest vaccine mandates.
For many, this is not simply about vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers, but a rejection of the past two years of federal and provincial policy decisions and an expression of immense anger directed at their governments.
And this has not gone unnoticed internationally. The world is watching Canada.
Last year, I had written (here and here) about how lockdowns are a policy failure not supported by conventional science. Indeed, lockdowns are a rejection of scientific principles as well as a rejection of the basic principles of sound policy development.
What do I mean by this? Well, in policy development as in science, the conventional wisdom is to approach the problem at hand objectively and to not be guided by emotion or partisanship. This means looking at the data to propose solutions and - importantly - understand whether the solutions are even working.
It’s clear that the lockdowns have simply failed. 100%. They are junk science and junk public policy.
The Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise just this month released a study Literature Review & Meta-Analysis of Effects of Lockdowns on Covid Mortality, which concluded that “While this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects, they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted. In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.”
The charity Collateral Global is “dedicated to researching, understanding, and communicating the effectiveness and collateral impacts of the Mandated Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (MNPIs) taken by governments worldwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” I suggest you peruse their website and take a look at the study after study and seemingly endless stream of articles on the immense collateral impacts of the pandemic.
These collateral impacts were cause by the response to the pandemic rather than the pandemic itself.
Consider this disturbing finding from a Statistics Canada report release in March 2021:
However, during the fall of 2020, younger people became more heavily affected by excess deaths, as 35% of these deaths involved individuals under the age of 65, up from 14% in the spring.
The number of deaths was 24% higher than expected for men aged under 45, followed by women aged 45 to 64, who recorded 14% more deaths than expected. By comparison, there were 6% more deaths than expected among those aged 85 and older during the fall period.
As these shifts imply an increase in deaths not directly caused by COVID-19, it is important to note that some deaths may be due to the indirect consequences of the pandemic, which could include increases in mortality due to overdoses. For example, in British Columbia, the Chief Coroner's Office has reported increases in deaths due to overdoses since the start of the pandemic. Similarly, Alberta Health Services reported decreases in both the provision and use of substance use treatment programs as well as increases in opioid-related emergency responses and deaths since the onset of the pandemic. Overdose deaths disproportionately affect younger men. For example, according to a report by Alberta Health, between January 1 and June 30, 2020, 79% of apparent unintentional fentanyl overdoses were among men, with those aged 25 to 39 recording the highest proportions of such deaths.
Did the lockdowns save any lives?
I wanted to explore this question in more detail myself.
The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford has produced the Oxford Covid-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT), which “collects systematic information on policy measures that governments have taken to tackle COVID-19.”
This is a tremendously helpful data source:
The different policy responses are tracked since 1 January 2020, cover more than 180 countries and are coded into 23 indicators, such as school closures, travel restrictions, vaccination policy. These policies are recorded on a scale to reflect the extent of government action, and scores are aggregated into a suite of policy indices. The data can help decision-makers and citizens understand governmental responses in a consistent way, aiding efforts to fight the pandemic.
Let’s look at this dataset in some more detail.
Here is the relationship between lockdown stringency and the number of deaths linked to covid-19. This is based on data available from 186 countries.
This is an incredibly weak relationship.
I was worried this might be a reflection of the vast socio-economic and demographic differences between countries - especially with regard to income levels, average age or health, and government competence, so I ran the same simple analysis using only OECD countries.
To my surprise, the relationship is actually weaker among OECD countries.
This is stunning in that it does not simply suggest that lockdowns have a small impact on covid-19, but rather virtually zero impact whatsoever.
If you were a doctor and lockdown was a pharmaceutical, would you prescribe it?
The same relationship (or lack thereof) holds across other subsets of lockdown stringency, including mask mandates and school closures.
Here’s the relationship between school closures and covid-19 deaths:
There’s simply no way to draw the conclusion here that closing schools saves lives.
Let’s take a look at mask mandates.
Again, the data suggests this is another intervention that may be politically appealing (at least in the early days) but fundamentally useless when it comes to actually saving lives.
What’s also remarkable about these charts is the relationship between stringency and covid-19, however miniscule, is actually positive. In other words, a higher stringency score is associated with higher covid-19 death rates.
Yes, correlation does not imply causation. But if your goal is to sell lockdowns, school closures, and mask mandates as life-saving measures, you are swimming against the current of available data coming our way.
Think about Canada and the United States for a moment. A common refrain in Canada is that we can’t reopen our society and economy too quickly or too fully because “the Americans reopened and they killed lots of people by doing so.”
This is blatantly false.
Yes, the reported number of covid-19 deaths is much higher in the U.S. than in Canada but consider this:
There are countries with LESS stringent lockdowns (or none at all) that have had FEWER covid-19 fatalities (such as Japan, Norway, Finland, and Denmark).
There are countries with MORE stringent lockdowns that have had MORE covid-19 fatalities (such as Italy, France, and Germany).
Comparing Canada and the U.S. in isolation from other nations is disingenuous.
Lockdown stringency is not what separates the U.S. from Canada or other nations.
This falls apart even more when we look at states and provinces.
Among American states, the relationship between lockdown stringency and covid-19 deaths is weak.
Among Canadian provinces, the relationship is even weaker.
The United States is essentially a living laboratory of 51 different approaches to the pandemic, so here are a couple of more charts on school closures and mask mandates.
The question that remains at this point is Were the past two years a total waste?
I think we all know the answer. Some may never acknowledge it, however.