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‘Legacy of harm’: Covid lockdowns caused “wide-ranging” damage that will last for years to come, study finds

Lockdowns imposed because of Covid-19 led to “wide-ranging” damage that will impact people for years to come, a damning new study has found. 

Negative impacts include millions of non-Covid excess deaths, an increase in domestic violence and child abuse, and trillions of dollars in economic losses. Pandemic lockdowns ended up likely causing “more harm than benefit,” according to the research.

The study was carried out by Dr Kevin Bardosh, an applied medical anthropologist from the University of Washington, who reviewed more than 600 research publications to assess the adverse social impacts driven by lockdowns and non-pharmaceutical interventions. He described Covid as “the most disruptive global crisis since WWII” – adding that lockdowns were part of the “most consequential set of policies in modern public health history”.

The preprint paper, ‘How Did the COVID Pandemic Response Harm Society? A Global Evaluation and State of Knowledge Review (2020-21)’, funded by UK charity Collateral Global, comprehensively evaluates the “global state of knowledge” on adverse social impacts – with an emphasis on their type and magnitude during 2020 and 2021.

A harm framework was developed under 10 categories: health, economy, income, food security, education, lifestyle, intimate relationships, community, environment and governance to assess the impact of Covid lockdowns.

“This cumulative academic research shows that the collateral damage of the pandemic response was substantial, wide-ranging and will leave behind a legacy of harm for hundreds of millions of people in the years ahead,” the paper states.

“Many original predictions are broadly supported by the research data including: a rise in non-Covid excess mortality, mental health deterioration, child abuse and domestic violence, widening global inequality, food insecurity, lost educational opportunities, unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, social polarization, soaring debt, democratic backsliding and declining human rights.”

Young people, individuals and countries with lower socioeconomic status, women and those with pre-existing vulnerabilities were those who were “hit hardest” by lockdowns, Bardosh said.

The research pointed to 14-18 million excess deaths, of which just 5.6 million were reported Covid deaths. It highlighted “tens of millions” of new mental health disorders, especially among young people.It found that $6 trillion had been amassed in lost income for workers worldwide, and an uneven recovery in 2022.

In addition, 200-400 million more people were pushed into poverty in 2022 (compared to 2019), while 350 million more people were pushed into food insecurity from 2019 to 2021. There was a 13% increase in the rate of global learning poverty between 2019 and 2022, erasing all gains in the education sector since 2000, according to the paper. Large dropout rates and an estimated $21 trillion may be lost in earnings for the current generation of students, the research also said.

“Societal harms should challenge the dominant mental model of the pandemic response: it is likely that many Covid policies caused more harm than benefit, although further research is needed to address knowledge gaps and explore policy trade-offs, especially at a country-level,” it states.

The paper also explored the role of the media during Covid lockdowns. The pandemic drove increased consumption of media “while also challenging journalistic standards and exacerbating threats to media freedom”, according to the paper.

“Studies show an increase in global news consumption in 2020, mainly for TV news (including live briefings), social media and internet news,” it stated, pointing to the harms of increased media consumption.

Increased media use were associated “with a decline in mental health,” the paper said.

“Studies generally show that political sources dominated the crisis reporting, revealing the central influence of the state and biomedical experts in constructing pandemic news, with some indication that critical scrutiny of policy decisions were minimal.”

Planning and response for future global health emergencies must integrate a wider range of expertise to account for and mitigate societal harms associated with government intervention, the study concludes.

Dr Bardosh, who is also a lecturer at Edinburgh University, took to Twitter to summarise his findings in a thread which laid out the most worrying impacts of lockdowns, found in his analysis.

He noted “an increase in negative lifestyle behaviours such as obesity, screen use, insomnia, physical and social impairments in children, frailty among the elderly, addiction, and poor diet. – Increased child abuse, domestic violence, crime and gender inequality.”


The paper concluded that there were “many lessons” to be learned from the Covid pandemic. While the UK’s own Covid inquiry has been underway for some time, Ireland is yet to launch an inquiry into the handling of the Covid pandemic, leading to doubt that hard questions will be asked and learned nationally.

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