By Enza Ferreri
“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk” wrote philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Minerva, whose sacred bird was the owl, was the Roman goddess of wisdom, and Hegel meant that historical events are understood only at their end.
Well, the Covid-19 pandemic is a historic event.
To put it more simply, hindsight is 20/20, and that applies both to individuals and societies.
So the time has come to assess the effects of lockdowns. Did they do anything to stop the spread of contagion and, even more importantly, to reduce deaths?
A useful method to find an answer is to compare countries enforcing lockdowns with countries with no or milder lockdown and to do likewise with US states.
Scientifically, this is probably the best research tool we have, as it is similar to the controlled studies in the best experimental tradition, in which there are two groups, the experimental group (in this case lockdown countries) and the control group (no-lockdown countries), as a way to test which group performs better in terms of Covid-19 cases and mortality.
Given the varying level of testing of asymptomatic populations done in different countries and regions, mortality rate is often considered more reliable than total cases rate.
Country and US State Comparisons
A comparison study of the world’s 50 countries with most Covid cases conducted by a University of Toronto team was published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet in July 2020, concluding that mortality rates were higher in those countries with an older population and higher levels of obesity. But it said:
Lastly, government actions such as border closures, full lockdowns, and a high rate of COVID-19 testing were not associated with statistically significant reductions in the number of critical cases or overall mortality. [Emphasis added]
Economists of University of California Los Angeles and other institutions studied 23 countries and 25 U.S. states with very different lockdown policies and found a regular pattern in all of them, regardless of severity of social restrictions and lockdown measures:
[T]he growth rates of daily deaths from COVID-19 fell from a wide range of initially high levels to levels close to zero within 20-30 days after each region experienced 25 cumulative deaths. Second: after this initial period, growth rates of daily deaths have hovered around zero or below everywhere in the world…
Our findings in Fact 2 and Fact 3 further raise doubt about the importance in NPI’s (lockdown policies in particular) in accounting for the evolution of COVID-19 transmission rates over time and across locations. Many of the regions in our sample that instated lockdown policies early on in their local epidemic, removed them later on in our estimation period, or have have not relied on mandated NPI’s much at all. Yet, effective reproduction numbers in all regions have continued to remain low relative to initial levels indicating that the removal of lockdown policies has had little effect on transmission rate. [Emphasis added]
The USA has a comparison within the country itself.
After Florida Governor Ron DeSantis removed many lockdown restrictions in late September 2020, opting instead for just encouraging people to behave responsibly, Fauci said that Florida was asking for trouble.
The previous July, Adam Weinstein of The New Republic had written in the same vein but even stronger terms that DeSantis was leading people “on a Death March”.
And yet this shown in the graph was the effect.
Florida, it must be recalled, has one of the highest percentages of elderly in the US, the only state, along with Maine, with over 20% of its population aged 65 or older, the group most at risk of Covid-19 illness, which makes such a result even more remarkable.
Florida’s deaths per million people is still below lockdowned states like New York.
Professor of Molecular Biology Douglas Axe, co-author of one of the most sensible books on the exaggerated response to the new coronavirus, The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe , twitted a month ago:
This spring, caseloads were not consistently higher in parts of the U.S. that had relaxed masking and social distancing measures (like Florida and Texas) than in regions that remained vigilant.
“If Florida”, writes columnist John Tierney, “had simply done no worse than the rest of the country during the pandemic, that would have been enough to discredit the lockdown strategy. But the outcome of this experiment was even more damning: Florida’s age-adjusted COVID mortality rate is lower than that of all but 10 other states.”
As of today, 14/09/2021, Taiwan, an island country in East Asia off the coast of China of nearly 24 million people, is 152nd in the world for number of total Covid cases from the beginning of the epidemic (16,098), in 205th place for total number of cases per million people (674) and in 175th place for number of Covid deaths per million people (35).
Despite its closeness to China, it is one of the countries least affected by Covid-19, and it never imposed a real lockdown.
In this year’s spring, after a temporary surge in cases, Taiwanese adopted voluntary measures, avoiding public spaces and delaying appointments.
In July 2021 the situation was again under control, with number of new daily cases rapidly falling.