As Ireland and a host of other nations consider re-implementing aspects of their lockdowns in the face of growing case numbers, it’s important to assess the impact of the concept itself so far, before assuming it’s a good course of action.
The efficacy of lockdowns are best measured by comparing the outcome of countries that implemented them with countries that didn’t, in order to determine whether they had any positive, pronounced effect on saving lives.
You might think that the real point of lockdowns was to slow the spread of the virus so that hospitals would cope, but that is to miss the primary purpose of hospitals, which is indeed to save lives, thus making lockdowns ultimately about saving as many lives as possible.
At the time of Covid-19’s emergence on the world scene, politicians could have been forgiven for reacting with great fear and trepidation in taking extreme measures, but the experience of countries like Sweden and Japan would strongly indicate that lockdowns were not necessary after all, and that threatening society with more of the same is wholly irresponsible.
Given that countries like the UK, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Peru all had lockdowns and yet suffered more deaths per million than Sweden (579.35 deaths p/million) and Japan (11.55), the case would seem quite clear that lockdowns, closing the economy and keeping people indoors, were not an essential step to take.
Furthermore, the fact some locked-down countries performed worse than Sweden shows there is no reason to suggest lockdowns were the cause of lower mortality rates in countries like Ireland (361.9), which did have a better outcome than Sweden, but not Japan.
The reason for Japan’s success is difficult to pinpoint, especially in light of their having the most elderly population in the world. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso claimed it was down to “the superior quality” of the Japanese people, implying they are genetically stronger than most other nations, a confidence that may have explained their decision to keep borders open, and, even when declaring a state of emergency, not forcing businesses to close or people to stay indoors. The latter two measures were advised and voluntary.
Experts there point to a tradition of mask-wearing, and timely advice to avoid crowds and close contact with people, as being the main reasons for their low death rate, but it seems likely that, because the Japanese have the lowest rates of coronary heart disease and obesity in the developed world, they were less likely to be impacted from the outset.
Sweden of course received the most attention during the lockdown, with many pundits predicting chaos in their hospitals and death on their streets as politicians there led Swedes along the treacherous path to herd immunity. The wisdom of this course is now being seen as the country continues to see case numbers dwindle into insignificance, with an average of two deaths per day in the last 14 days.
The country currently has a 14-day case rate of 24.0 per 100,000 compared to a growing 48.6 per 100,000 in the UK, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Anders Tegnell, the top epidemiologist leading Sweden’s coronavirus strategy told the Unherd website last month: “What we are seeing now in Sweden is a rapid decline in the number of cases, and of course some sort of immunity must be responsible for that since nothing else has changed.”
The fact that lockdowns were not essential components of the fight against Covid-19 has yet to be acknowledged by the majority of politicians and scientists responsible for them, making the integrity of their continued leadership all the more questionable.
Admitting error might not be high on the priority list of politicians who have played the highest stakes poker of their lives, but with devastating damage to other aspects of healthcare, and many economies now officially in recession, the cost of their mistaken policies are clear to see.
Herd immunity now looks all the more attractive as economies continue to contract and the Damocles sword of further restrictions hangs over most of the West. Perhaps it’s time to start seeing the increase in cases as part of the journey towards herd immunity and finally overcoming a very difficult year.