Johns Hopkins University researchers say lockdowns in the U.S. and Europe had little to no impact in reducing COVID-19 deaths.
According to a new analysis of dozens of scientific studies, the lockdowns during the early phase of the pandemic in 2020 reduced COVID-19 mortality by about 0.2%.
"We find no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality," the researchers wrote.
The lockdowns did have "devastating effects" on the economy, however, and contributed to numerous social ills, the paper noted.
"They have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence and undermining liberal democracy," the researchers said.
"Such a standard benefit-cost calculation leads to a strong conclusion: Lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument," the paper concluded.
Citing the recommendations of leading healthcare experts, 186 countries and many states imposed restrictions on work, socialization, in-person schooling and travel early on in the pandemic to curb the spread of the virus.
Researchers at the Imperial College London claimed that such measures could reduce death rates by up to 98%.
Researchers Steve Hanke, Jonas Herby, and Lars Jonung at Johns Hopkins say that never happened.
"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," they wrote.
The researchers examined deaths early in the pandemic and found that, by May 20, 2020 — the end of the lockdown period studied — a total of 97,081 people had died of COVID-19 in the United States.
At the time, one study had projected 99,050 deaths without lockdowns.
Despite the overall findings, there was some evidence to indicate that closing bars helped reduce deaths, the researchers found.
"Closing nonessential businesses seems to have had some effect (reducing COVID-19 mortality by 10.6%), which is likely to be related to the closure of bars," they said.
According to the researchers, the timing of lockdowns, and their unintended consequences, may play a larger role in affecting mortality than expected.
"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," they wrote. "Indeed, we do find some evidence that limiting gatherings was counterproductive and increased COVID-19 mortality."
Hanke is the founder and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise. Herby is special adviser at Center for Political Studies in Copenhagen, Denmark. Jonung is professor emeritus in economics at Lund University, Sweden.
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