🔒 Lockdown doesn’t save lives; it just kills economies – Wall Street Journal

Lockdown restrictions in South Africa have arguably been among the harshest in the world. Our economy was still recovering from a recession when Covid-19 hit our shores, and the impact has been devastating on our fiscus. Actuary Nick Hudson of  Pandemic Data and Analytics (PANDA) makes no secret of the fact that he believes South Africa destroyed its economy unnecessarily. “The lockdown theory proposes that there will be dramatic effects on the rate at which the infections will spread in the country,” he says. “And it’s a very strong prediction that there will be step downs in the rate of infection, and when you release lockdown, there will be step ups. And we’ve gone through every single country in the world and every single lockdown event and every single release of lockdown – you can’t see these step downs and step ups.” Professor Graham Barr of the University of Cape Town (UCT) also says that science let us down because politicians relied too heavily on data forecasting. – Claire Badenhorst

The failed experiment of Covid lockdowns

By Donald L. Luskin

Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the US has now carried out two large-scale experiments in public health — first, in March and April, the lockdown of the economy to arrest the spread of the virus, and second, since mid-April, the reopening of the economy. The results are in. Counterintuitive though it may be, statistical analysis shows that locking down the economy didn’t contain the disease’s spread and reopening it didn’t unleash a second wave of infections.

Considering that lockdowns are economically costly and create well-documented long-term public-health consequences beyond Covid, imposing them appears to have been a large policy error. At the beginning, when little was known, officials acted in ways they thought prudent. But now evidence proves that lockdowns were an expensive treatment with serious side effects and no benefit to society.

Read also: How lockdown made resentful criminals of us all – Johannes Wessels

TrendMacro, my analytics firm, tallied the cumulative number of reported cases of Covid-19 in each state and the District of Columbia as a percentage of population, based on data from state and local health departments aggregated by the Covid Tracking Project. We then compared that with the timing and intensity of the lockdown in each jurisdiction. That is measured not by the mandates put in place by government officials, but rather by observing what people in each jurisdiction actually did, along with their baseline behaviour before the lockdowns. This is captured in highly detailed anonymised cellphone tracking data provided by Google and others and tabulated by the University of Maryland’s Transportation Institute into a “Social Distancing Index”.

Measuring from the start of the year to each state’s point of maximum lockdown — which range from April 5 to April 18 — it turns out that lockdowns correlated with a greater spread of the virus. States with longer, stricter lockdowns also had larger Covid outbreaks. The five places with the harshest lockdowns — the District of Columbia, New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts — had the heaviest caseloads.

It could be that strict lockdowns were imposed as a response to already severe outbreaks. But the surprising negative correlation, while statistically weak, persists even when excluding states with the heaviest caseloads. And it makes no difference if the analysis includes other potential explanatory factors such as population density, age, ethnicity, prevalence of nursing homes, general health or temperature. The only factor that seems to make a demonstrable difference is the intensity of mass-transit use.

Read also: How science let us down, led to flawed Covid-19 lockdown measures – UCT’s Prof Barr

We ran the experiment a second time to observe the effects on caseloads of the reopening that began in mid-April. We used the same methodology, but started from each state’s peak of lockdown and extended to July 31. Confirming the first experiment, there was a tendency (though fairly weak) for states that opened up the most to have the lightest caseloads. The states that had the big summer flare-ups in the so-called “Sunbelt second wave” — Arizona, California, Florida and Texas — are by no means the most opened up, politicised headlines notwithstanding.

The lesson is not that lockdowns made the spread of Covid-19 worse — although the raw evidence might suggest that — but that lockdowns probably didn’t help, and opening up didn’t hurt.

This defies common sense. In theory, the spread of an infectious disease ought to be controllable by quarantine. Evidently not in practice, though we are aware of no researcher who understands why not.

We’re not the only researchers to have discovered this statistical relationship. We first published a version of these findings in April, around the same time similar findings appeared in these pages. In July, a publication of the Lancet published research that found similar results looking across countries rather than US states.

“A longer time prior to implementation of any lockdown was associated with a lower number of detected cases,” the study concludes. Those findings have now been enhanced by sophisticated measures of actual social distancing, and data from the reopening phase.

There are experimental controls that all this research lacks. There are no observable instances in which there were either total lockdowns or no lockdowns at all.

But there’s no escaping the evidence that, at minimum, heavy lockdowns were no more effective than light ones, and that opening up a lot was no more harmful than opening up a little.

So where’s the science that would justify the heavy lockdowns many public-health officials are still demanding?

With the evidence we now possess, even the most risk-averse and single-minded public-health officials should hesitate before demanding the next lockdown and causing the next economic recession.

Mr. Luskin is chief investment officer of TrendMacro.