The mistake of lockdowns: never again

Published in Expansión

In 1968, the third flu pandemic of the 20th century killed at least one million people worldwide (100,000 just in the US), half of them under 65. However, it is seldom remembered, because, although sensible measures were taken such as wearing masks on public transport, ensuring better hand hygiene and avoiding gatherings, no government locked its citizens up, nor did it police them under draconian and contradictory rules, nor was there panic, business closures, unemployment or depression, nor did the media count every contagion and every death on a daily basis.

The exorbitant measure of locking up the entire population in their homes, in other words, closing down a country in a hurry, is therefore an abnormality. Naturally, governments, who should always be presumed to deceive, claim that this measure has been successful, although in the long term and on a global level it may have cost lives and has indeed devastated economies (on whose robustness, do not forget, our health system depends). These governments are very upset by the fact that some countries have chosen not to do lockdowns and may provide uncomfortable counterfactual empirical comparisons. This persecution of the dissident is suspicious, as it denotes a certain insecurity in the supposed “success” of such policy. Indeed, now that we have much more data, the results of lockdowns raises serious questions. Sweden decided not to do lockdown and has so far a similar or lower mortality than countries that did lock such as France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy or Belgium. Moreover, in Sweden the peak of deaths occurred in mid-April (weekly moving average), exactly the same as in the UK or Germany (and shortly after Italy, France and Spain), and death numbers have since fallen by 94%, a similar figure to that experienced in other countries [1]. So if the peak in deaths has occurred on similar dates in all these countries, regardless of the existence or severity of a lockdown, and the drop in mortality has also been similar, it is difficult to argue that lockdowns have been the decisive factor in such drop of mortality. In fact, there is no correlation between harsh lockdowns and mortality: Spain has suffered the most dictatorial and extreme lockdown in the world and also the highest number of deaths per million (according to all sources except the Spanish central government), while countries with soft lockdowns have had much lower mortality. Across the ocean, eight US states chose not to confine their populations, and their mortality has been indistinguishable from that of neighboring states with similar population densities that did confine.

These data suggest that, in the vast majority of cases, lockdowns have been a panicked, reactive measure and a failed public health policy. In Spain the government first reacted late (allowing and encouraging for political reasons the March 8th massive feminist demonstrations across the country in spite of the growing concern of many health authorities) and then had us locked up for 90 days to fight a virus with an average incubation period of 5 days, during which time we have gone from 288 dead to more than 40,000, according to the most reliable sources. It is so evident that this is a failure that it seems absurd to insist on the obvious.

Proponents of lockdowns once hid behind a questionable and alarmist research done by a British university that predicted millions of deaths based on outdated and now quite discredited mathematical models[2]. Well, the same university has published what is essentially the same study for the second time (apparently with the same models) defending the millions of lives (a virtual estimate that it admits to giving only “for illustrative purposes”) supposedly saved by lockdowns, that is, by its own research! Second parts are seldom good and this one has already been the object of sharp criticism by some experts[3], but it is the one that the hugely incompetent Spanish PM Sanchez has used to brag around the place in spite of his calamitous management of the epidemic (and in the face of silent, indolent non-opposition parties).

After the tragedy, accentuated by the government’s policies, it is time to try to prudently recover normality, and for this purpose greater rigor on the part of the media and authorities would be desirable. The so-called ” outbreaks ” are not unexpected relapses. We live with the coronavirus and will continue to do so, but its lethality has fallen dramatically, so an increase in mild or asymptomatic infections is not necessarily alarming, while the evolution of the number of severely sick hospitalized patients (particularly in ICU) is more informative. Nor does it seem logical to take the “official” number of infected persons as the main unit of measurement, since the authorities have never known the real number: the figure depends on the number of tests carried out and seroprevalence studies have shown that only one in ten cases is detected, at the very most. It is even possible that the number of infected people is, as recent Swedish research suggests[4], three times higher than seroprevalence studies, which do not detect T-lymphocyte immunity, show. If this data is confirmed, Madrid and other local hotspots in Spain would be much closer to herd immunity (which is now estimated at be about 40%[5]) and, as a corollary, the lethality of Covid-19 would be much lower than initially estimated, which is clearly encouraging.

It is essential to understand that indiscriminate lockdowns, which lock up healthy and sick people alike, people at risk of developing serious conditions (because of age or underlying illnesses) and those who statistically are not (healthy youth and adults under a certain age), in the countryside and in the city, in highly affected areas and in areas where there are hardly any cases, has been a decision resulting from the authorities’ ignorance at the moment, from political panic and from herd behavior. Governments simply stampeded out. It is a measure that is unsustainable over time and, furthermore, it has turned out to be a health failure, an intolerable coup of a fascist and totalitarian nature and an unprecedented economic disaster. No country, and Spain least of all, can afford the chaos that a second indiscriminate closure would produce. Several studies[6] suggest that social distance, avoidance of crowds, the use of masks in closed, crowded and poorly ventilated environments, the protection of hospitals and nurse homes, the isolation of patients and their contacts and, if necessary, that of the population at risk just in local outbreaks, is epidemiologically effective and safeguards the rule of law and the functioning of the country. Now that much more information is available, the authorities should learn the lesson and ensure that the mistake is never repeated, because this uncertainty is hampering recovery and threatens to turn the crisis created by government action into a depression with unfathomable consequences.

 

Fernando del Pino Calvo-Sotelo

www.fpcs.es

 

[1] Source:   https://www.worldometers.info/

[2] The main author’s track record of failed predictions is remarkable. See https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2020/05/21/how_fear_groupthink_drove_unnecessary_global_lockdowns_143253.html

[3] https://www.nicholaslewis.org/did-lockdowns-really-save-3-million-covid-19-deaths-as-flaxman-et-al-claim/

[4] https://news.ki.se/immunity-to-covid-19-is-probably-higher-than-tests-have-shown

[5] Among others, see    https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/06/22/science.abc6810

[6] https://www.wsj.com/articles/targeted-lockdowns-are-better-11588630768

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