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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
1 Jul 2023

NextImg:ANALYSIS: A 'World Gone Mad'—The Cost of COVID Lockdowns

The days of COVID lockdowns may be behind us for the time being, but a multinational academic team has conducted a broad analysis of government pandemic actions and found them to be “a global policy failure of gigantic proportions,” often driven by state and media-sponsored fear campaigns.

Their findings, published in a book titled “Did Lockdowns Work? The Verdict on Covid Restrictions,” are based on a worldwide meta-analysis that screened nearly 20,000 studies to determine the benefits and harms from health diktats, including lockdowns, school closures, and mask mandates. According to economist Steve Hanke, one of the co-authors, one of the things that drove countries into a state of panic and draconian policies was reliance on mortality models from sources like the Imperial College of London (ICL) that generated “fantasy numbers” showing that millions of deaths could be averted by instituting crippling society-wide lockdowns.

Prior to the COVID outbreak, “most countries did have a plan to deal with pandemics,” Hanke told The Epoch Times, “but after the Imperial College of London’s ‘numbers’ were published, those plans were, in a panic, thrown out the window.

“In each case, the same pattern was followed: flawed modeling, hair-raising predictions of disaster that missed the mark, and no lessons learned,” he said. “The same mistakes were repeated over and over again and were never challenged.”

Hanke is an economics professor and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise. The other co-authors of the study are Jonas Herby, special adviser at the Center for Political Studies in Copenhagen, and Lars Jonung, an economics professor at Lund University in Sweden.

While the meta-analysis surveyed thousands of studies, it found that only 22 of them contained useful data for the study. The report focused on mortality rates and lockdown policies during 2020.

“This study is the first all-encompassing evaluation of the research on the effectiveness of mandatory restrictions on mortality,” Jonung stated. “It demonstrates that lockdowns were a failed promise. They had negligible health effects but disastrous economic, social and political costs to society.”

According to Hanke, the ICL models predicted that lockdowns would prevent between 1.7 million and 2.2 million deaths in the United States. The meta-analysis, however, indicates that lockdowns prevented between 4,345 and 15,586 deaths in the United States. This fits a pattern of overstated predictions from the ICL, which health officials either didn’t know about or overlooked, he said.

“There is a long history of fantasy numbers generated by the epidemiological models used by the Imperial College of London,” Hanke said. “Its dreadful record started with the UK foot-and-mouth disease epidemic in 2001, during which the Imperial College models predicted that daily case incidences would peak at 420. But, at the time, the number of incidences had already peaked at just over 50 and was falling.”

In 2002, the ICL predicted that up to 150,000 people in the UK would die from mad cow disease; in 2019, the BBC reported that the number of UK deaths from mad cow disease was 177. In 2005, Neil Ferguson, who led the ICL, predicted up to 200 million deaths from the H5N1 bird flu, which had at that time killed 65 people in Asia; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 2003 and 2023, 458 people died from H5N1 worldwide.

The ICL’s habit of “crying wolf” did not prevent the BBC, once COVID-19 struck, from relying on its data to broadcast dire weekly warnings to its 468 million listeners, in 42 languages worldwide.

“Maybe the Imperial College models are ideal fear-generating machines for politicians and governments that crave more power,” Hanke said. “H.L. Mencken put his finger on this phenomenon long ago when he wrote that ‘the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins.’”

While there were some U.S. states that never issued lockdown orders, including Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Arkansas, Sweden was the rare national exception that refrained from forcing people into lockdowns. American governors who refused to lock down their states were harshly criticized in the media, which predicted that this would cause mass deaths.

In April 2020, under the Trump administration, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had lifted lockdowns in his state, telling NBC’s “Today” show that federal guidelines should be taken as “a national stay-at-home order.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN at the time that, regarding lockdowns, “the tension between federally mandated versus states’ rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into. But if you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that.”

Left-leaning states like California and New York kept draconian regulations in place longer than most, with New York City even setting up a system of vaccine passports that prevented the unvaccinated from entering public places like restaurants, bars, theaters, and museums. While America’s federal system, which vested health authority with states, prevented the U.S. government from forcing lockdowns on the entire country, President Joe Biden issued vaccine and mask mandates once he took office that were ultimately ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.

For Sweden, however, the protections from these types of health mandates were written into their constitution, called the Regeringsform.

This document reads: “Everyone shall be protected in their relations with the public institutions against deprivations of personal liberty. All Swedish citizens shall also in other respects be guaranteed freedom of movement within the Realm and freedom to depart the Realm.” This law permits exceptions only for convicts and military conscripts; in addition, Swedish law does not allow the government to declare a state of emergency during peacetime.

“Also important in the Swedish Covid case was the lead public health official, Dr. Anders Tegnell,” Hanke said. “His views on public health were the antipode of those held by the Covid Czar in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

In a September 2020 interview, Tegnell described lockdowns as “using a hammer to kill a fly,” and said of the rush among virtually every other country to impose them, “it was as if the world had gone mad.”

Sweden also did not impose mask mandates, while at the other extreme, Australia arrested citizens who went maskless or congregated outside, and Austria made it a criminal offense to refuse the COVID vaccine. At the time, the New York Times called Sweden a “pariah state” and “the world’s cautionary tale.”

Some of the differences between modeled and actual results come down to what Hanke calls the “hot stove effect.”

“When someone is warned that a stove is hot, they voluntarily keep their hands off the stove,” he said, citing evidence that, if credibly warned, people tend to take precautions without being forced.

And yet, rather than allowing citizens to make their own health decisions, most governments were united in forcing populations to follow behaviors that had not been recommended during pandemics up to that point. This year, 194 nations have come together to negotiate a global pandemic accord and amendments to International Health Regulations (IHR) that would centralize pandemic response within the WHO.

There is little in the pandemic accord or the IHR amendments regarding civil liberties and the personal protections against state abuses contained in the Swedish Regeringsform, such as the right to free speech, travel, and association, and nothing regarding the right to refuse experimental drugs. Instead, the negotiations focus on concentrating power and policy in the hands of a finite number of health officials in Geneva.

This includes centralization of medical supply chains, pandemic response policies, and a coordinated suppression of “misinformation.” As the countries of the world, including the United States, proceed down this path, some are questioning the wisdom of centralizing control when the states and countries that reacted to COVID in the least damaging way were the exception rather than the rule.

“Central planning is based on what Nobelist Friedrich Hayek identified as the ‘pretense of knowledge,’” Hanke said. “The results usually end up in a river of tears. It’s most often prudent to proceed via decentralized experimentation rather than with a global plan.”

In addition, government policies often are unidimensional; they typically enforce a single-minded goal, such as attempting to stop the spread of a virus, while ignoring side effects and collateral damage. The response to COVID is a textbook case of that.

“The record of public health officials is pretty dismal,” Hanke said. “Covid policies represent one of the greatest policy blunders in the modern era.”

The book does recognize some benefits from COVID lockdowns.

“Lockdowns, as reported in studies based on stringency indices in the spring of 2020, reduced mortality by 3.2% when compared to less strict lockdown policies adopted by the likes of Sweden,” the authors state. “This means lockdowns prevented 1,700 deaths in England and Wales, 6,000 deaths across Europe, and 4,000 deaths in the United States.”

By comparison, the authors write, a typical flu season leads to 18,500–24,800 deaths in England and Wales, 72,000 flu deaths throughout Europe, and 38,000 deaths in the United States.

Meanwhile, negative effects from lockdowns included: damage to mental health, loss of jobs, company bankruptcies, an increase in crime, loss of freedom and other infringement on civil liberties, inflation, an increase in public debt, and harm to children’s education and well-being.

A 2022 psychology report on “The Impact of School Closure on Children’s Well-being During the COVID-19 Pandemic” found that “those children exposed to COVID-19 related measures, such as mandatory school closure, are more likely to manifest symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress, insomnia, emotional disturbance, irritability, sleep and appetite disturbance, negative eating habits, and impairment in social interactions.”

The Congressional Budget Office calculated that real GDP fell 11.3 percent in the second quarter of 2020 and was still down 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2021, relative to CBO’s pre-pandemic January 2020 projections.

The authors of “Did Lockdowns Work?” recommend that in future pandemics, “lockdowns should be rejected out of hand.”

Asked if he expected that leaders around the globe would consider studies like his and learn from the COVID experience, Hanke replied, “If the history of public health policy serves as a guide, my answer is ‘no.’”