Thursday, July 23, 2020

Case Closed: Lockdowns Don't Work

A new study published in The Lancet examined the effects of various countermeasures and other country-level variables on COVID-19 cases, deaths, and related statistics in various countries.  And the results were rather underwhelming and disappointing for any lockdown enthusiast.  Behold the key takeaway, in the authors' own words:
Rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and wide-spread testing were not associated with COVID-19 mortality per million people.
And that was after controlling for a whole host of variables in a multivariate analysis.  As the late, great William Farr (of Farr's Law fame) has famously noted, "the death rate is a fact; anything beyond this is an inference".  That is, if you know the death rate for a given disease, you can fairly accurately estimate the (lagged) infection rate from that.  And that is especially true of COVID-19, where cases are often counted differently in different times and places.

(The Occam's Razor is as sharp as ever here.)

And that is not even the most scathing study done on the matter to date.  Followers of our blog may recall others as well that were far less charitable than this one.  Worse, in some countries, lockdowns actually appear to have been deadlier than doing nothing or taking less extreme measures.  In many countries, deaths with COVID and from COVID are conflated, and even non-COVID deaths saw increases during at least the first few weeks of lockdown.  Excess all-cause mortality in so many countries shows a rather suspicious pattern that is strongly suggestive that the government response of lockdowns (along with closely related policies such as artificial restrictions of healthcare and monumentally screwing up with nursing homes) likely caused far more deaths than the virus itself.  In fact, despite the fact that the virus was already circulating much earlier, excess all-cause mortality did not exceed statistical norms in any country until after such lockdowns were imposed.

If that is the case, then that is nothing short of mass murder!  And those are just the short-term effects, with longer-term effects coming down the pike.

At best, then, such lockdowns were unnecessary infringements on civil rights and liberties, and at worst they were far worse (and deadlier) than useless.  All the more reason NOT to repeat such mistakes going forward.  Seriously, don't do it!

So what about those few supposed success stories of countries and states that locked down very early in their epidemic curves and seemed to have dodged a bullet?  Well, take a look at them now, or if not now, a few weeks or months from now.  Those are the ones who are or will be having the much dreaded "second wave" of the virus, since they still have quite a ways to go before reaching even partial herd immunity thanks to their early lockdowns.  Meanwhile, those hard-hit countries and states with belated lockdowns (or none at all, like Sweden) will most likely avoid a second wave, having built up enough immunity to keep the virus from taking off once again.  A very lucky few countries in the former group might still remain lucky, of course, but as Dr. Sunetra Gupta notes, that is really thanks to the rest of the world building up such immunity, a classic "free-rider" problem that really is nothing to be so smug about.

The thing about viruses is, you can run, but you can't hide.  At least not for very long.  Sooner or later, it has to run its course.  It really doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that playing hide-and-seek with an invisible enemy would be a lose-lose proposition.


JULY-NOVEMBER UPDATES:  Looks like yet another rug has been pulled out from under the strongest pro-lockdown argument recently, confirming the WHO's famous June 8th "gaffe" that truly asymptomatic transmission of the virus, while it exists, is indeed relatively rare and is thus not a particularly significant driver of the COVID-19 epidemic.  A new study in Annals of Internal Medicine in August simply confirmed what previous research has already found in that regard in countries that did very thorough and detailed contact tracing.  And of course, we now know that the decision to implement lockdowns was really due to countries simply copying each other and flying blind, not based on empirical evidence.  And the whole general concept has quite a checkered pedigree as well, while its original justification of "flattening the curve" was quickly and thoroughly supplanted by moving the proverbial goalposts practically 180 degrees.

(While presymptomatic transmission and subtly symptomatic transmission is apparently quite common, that is also true for the flu as well, a virus for which large-scale mass quarantines have been roundly discredited as useless and counterproductive for nearly a century.  The lockdown zealots can't have it both ways: either COVID-19 is as stealthy and practically unstoppable as the flu and common cold, and lockdowns are thus utterly useless, OR it is possible to contain it without lockdowns, and lockdowns are thus utterly unnecessary.)

And yet another study has recently found that the curve was in fact largely self-flattening from the start with or without lockdowns or other non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as curfews, closures, quarantines, travel restrictions, event bans, or even the much-vaunted mask mandates.  That is, while the growth rate of the epidemic inherently started out very high, it had already begun decelerating after roughly the 25th cumulative death was recorded in practically every country studied regardless, with the daily curve peaking or plateauing within 20-30 days from then.  Even long before herd immunity was or will be reached, transmission rates were already slowing down dramatically due to the virus reaching "natural dead-ends and roundabouts" in human social networks.  Which is really not surprising for a virus that is primarily transmitted by a small "superspreading" sliver of the population, and that still in a highly heterogeneous population in terms of susceptibility as well.  And even if lockdowns and/or other NPIs were perhaps somewhat effective at first, any such effectiveness apparently rapidly decays over time to essentially nil by now.

And Lyman Stone, an early opponent of lockdowns, noted all the way back in April that Americans, much like Europeans, generally began voluntarily social distancing before, and often well before, lockdowns went into effect.  This was particularly true in Washington State, but true to an extent practically everywhere eventually.  Information and recommendations would thus appear far more effective than coercion, especially when done early.

Still not convinced yet?  Well, even more new evidence just keeps piling up, and none of it is particularly flattering to lockdowns.  Also, for the USA, it appears that the significant regional variations in the death curves are far more due to to climate and seasonality than to lockdowns and NPIs.  The Northeast was "early peak" much like Europe, the South and Southwest was "late peak" much like Latin America, and the Midwest and Northwest were essentially "no peak", just a long and low undulating plateau.  And a few borderline states were "mixed", not clearly fitting into any category.  All essentially independent of the timing and relative stringency of lockdown and reopening.  Thus, looking at the USA as a monolithic country, especially when comparing it to Europe, is highly misleading and disingenuous.

See also this video by the ever-insightful Ivor Cummins as well.  A real eye-opener indeed!

Thus, yet again we see that anti-lockdown Sweden (and Belarus, etc.) was not a special case at all, but rather the proper control group while the rest of the world essentially embarked on a crazy experiment whose theory behind it didn't really pan out.

Oh, and about that supposed "success" story of Peru?  There's a good reason why lockdown enthusiasts don't seem to want to talk much about them anymore.  Let's see:  world's longest lockdown (over six months), world's toughest lockdown (makes Melbourne look like a walk in the park), world's earliest lockdown (for their region), and--wait for it--world's worst death rate.  If that's "success", we'd really hate to see what failure looks like!  Now their fully-open neighbor Brazil doesn't really look so bad after all, do they?

(Pardon the pun, but don't cry for me, Argentina, either.  Another longest-lockdown country now getting the worst of both worlds, with the added insult of borderline hyperinflation (again!) as well.)

Later, Belgium of course became a bit worse than Peru once again despite going back to lockdown, as their second wave appears to rival their first one.  Neither their first nor their second lockdown seem to have done them a lick of good.  Supposedly they have quite a problem with Vitamin D deficiency, kinda like New York and the UK, so they might wanna start fortifying their food like the Nordic countries do.

Thus, in conclusion, the most fundamental flaw of lockdowns of all flavors is that it is applying a micro-level solution (quarantine of sick individuals and/or their contacts) to the macro level (mass quarantine of the healthy as well, over a wide area), which ultimately creates far worse macro-level problems.  The same can perhaps even be said about overbroad mask mandates as well, at least in the long run.  History will not judge such measures kindly at all.

And in case you think that the shiny new October study in The Lancet somehow overturns the aforementioned ever-growing mountain of evidence against lockdowns, well, we've got a shiny new bridge we'd like to sell you.  The ever-insightful Toby Young of the British site Lockdown Sceptics has an excellent takedown of this highly questionable study.  If only the UK Government (and indeed the rest of the world) would actually listen to him for once.

Meanwhile, yet another study finds that lockdowns still don't work in terms of reducing death rates, and another finds that the recent autumn outbreaks are (surprise!) strongly correlated with seasonality regardless of policy.  Case closed, full stop.

See also here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  

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