Lockdowns Had ‘Little to No Effect’ on Covid Deaths: New Meta-Analysis

3 February 2022

2.1 MINS

Lockdowns reduced Covid deaths by only 0.2%, according to the latest meta-analysis published by Johns Hopkins University. Such measures are “ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument,” the authors conclude.

A new research review published this week by Johns Hopkins University found that “lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality”. The meta-analysis was led by economist Steve H. Hanke, and evaluated 24 relevant studies that examined stay-at-home orders and other government-mandated interventions.

“Stringency index studies find that lockdowns in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average,” the report concludes. It also found shelter-in-place orders to be ineffective, only reducing COVID-19 mortality by an average of 2.9%.

The cost of these interventions, however, was enormous. The authors note that lockdowns “contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence, and undermining liberal democracy”. As such, “lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument,” the report concludes.

The meta-analysis supports similar research published in the International Journal of the Economics of Business, reported on by the Daily Declaration last October. “Lockdowns are not just an inefficient policy,” that study concluded, “they must rank as one of the greatest peacetime policy disasters of all time”.

How Studies Were Selected

The new Johns Hopkins study began by identifying over 18,000 papers and finally narrowing to several dozen. The team excluded studies that relied on modelling instead of empirical data, were authored by students, or didn’t consider Covid mortality, since preventing deaths was the principal aim of government lockdowns.

The team gave more weight to studies that were peer-reviewed and examined lockdowns over longer periods, among other criteria. Of those that were eventually included, some showed a notable reduction in Covid deaths. In aggregate, however, the benefits were found to be negligible.

According to the study, the most effective intervention was the closure of licensed businesses such as bars and restaurants, which caused a 10.6% fall in deaths. The meta-analysis concluded that border closures had virtually zero effect on deaths (-0.1%) — though no data from Australia or New Zealand was examined.

Lockdowns Had Been Ruled Out Pre-Covid 

Hanke and his team correctly point out that “the use of lockdowns is a unique feature of the COVID-19 pandemic,” and that “lockdowns have not been used to such a large extent during any of the pandemics of the past century”.

Indeed, by the beginning of 2020, health experts of every developed nation had ruled out the use of lockdowns, and they were also absent in the pandemic plans of the World Health Organization (WHO). The study’s authors quote a 2006 WHO Writing Group publication that stated, “Reports from the 1918 influenza pandemic indicate that social-distancing measures did not stop or appear to dramatically reduce transmission.”

Hanke and his team also discussed a model that was widely relied on by governments early in the pandemic, which came from Imperial College London (Neil Ferguson et al., 2020). It predicted millions of deaths in the first wave, of which up to 98 per cent could be averted with the use of heavy-handed lockdowns.

Ultimately, these predictions were shown to be overstated by multiples of up to 15, while the benefit of lockdowns remains highly contested.

Read about the (previous) International Journal of the Economics of Business study here.

Image by Pexels.


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One Comment

  1. David Williamson 8 February 2022 at 3:00 am - Reply

    Is there a hind-sight factor in here? Will we learn and adapt our future decisions based on experience? Is this a “we were right” conclusion?

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