The aura of “expert” has lost its luster during Covid, as our supposedly bigger brains have been proved wrong repeatedly.
Two of these have been Ezekiel Emanuel and Anthony Fauci. Both were enthusiastic proponents of societal lockdowns as a means of preventing deaths and the spread of Covid. We now know from a Johns Hopkins blockbuster meta-analysis that “shutting it down,” in Donald Trump’s awkward phrase, did very little to prevent deaths.
It’s a long, arcane, and detailed analysis, and I can’t present every nuance or statistic here. But I think these are the primary takeaways. From the study:
Overall, we conclude that lockdowns are not an effective way of reducing mortality rates during a pandemic, at least not during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results are in line with the World Health Organization Writing Group (2006), who state, “Reports from the 1918 influenza pandemic indicate that social-distancing measures did not stop or appear to dramatically reduce transmission […]
In Edmonton, Canada, isolation and quarantine were instituted; public meetings were banned; schools, churches, colleges, theaters, and other public gathering places were closed; and business hours were restricted without obvious impact on the epidemic.” Our findings are also in line with Allen’s (2021) conclusion: “The most recent research has shown that lockdowns have had, at best, a marginal effect on the number of Covid 19 deaths.”
Why might that be?
Mandates only regulate a fraction of our potential contagious contacts and can hardly regulate nor enforce handwashing, coughing etiquette, distancing in supermarkets, etc. Countries like Denmark, Finland, and Norway that realized success in keeping COVID-19 mortality rates relatively low allowed people to go to work, use public transport, and meet privately at home during the first lockdown. In these countries, there were ample opportunities to legally meet with others.
Worse, the lockdowns caused tremendous harm:
Unintended consequences may play a larger role than recognized. We already pointed to the possible unintended consequence of SIPOs, which may isolate an infected person at home with his/her family where he/she risks infecting family members with a higher viral load, causing more severe illness. But often, lockdowns have limited peoples’ access to safe (outdoor) places such as beaches, parks, and zoos, or included outdoor mask mandates or strict outdoor gathering restrictions, pushing people to meet at less safe (indoor) places. Indeed, we do find some evidence that limiting gatherings was counterproductive and increased COVID-19 mortality
What lessons should be learned (my emphasis)?
The use of lockdowns is a unique feature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns have not been used to such a large extent during any of the pandemics of the past century. However, lockdowns during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic have had devastating effects. They have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy. These costs to society must be compared to the benefits of lockdowns, which our meta-analysis has shown are marginal at best. Such a standard benefit-cost calculation leads to a strong conclusion: lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument.
To which I would add another: We can never squelch free discourse and debate on public-health issues again.
People who argued against the “scientific consensus” about the lockdowns were stifled, censored by Big Tech, denigrated by the media, and mocked by establishment scientists. That was essentially “anti-science.” The scientific method needs heterodox voices to speak freely if it is to function properly.
This subsequent look-back shows why. To a large degree, those with the officially disfavored views–such as the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration—were correct on this matter.
Will we learn the lesson? Yes, if our goal is to ably discern and apply the best policy options, which can be a messy process. No, if the point is to allow those in charge of institutional science to exert societal control.