By any sensible calculation, the principal worldwide covid damage has come not from the virus, but from governments’ efforts to suppress it, principally through lockdowns. Dr. Ari Joffe attempts to quantify that disproportion. Joffe is a distinguished Canadian pediatrician, having recently been named one of the ten most influential researchers in the field of pediatric critical care.
Dr. Joffe itemizes some of the adverse consequences of shutdowns:
Public health leaders are medical experts and are necessary advisors in formulating a response to the pandemic. However, their expertise is not sufficient to make policy decisions. There are trade-offs to any decision made, and preventing COVID-19 cases, deaths, and overwhelmed hospital capacity are not the only factors to consider. Unfortunately, the response perspective of controlling a single disease has had devastating, often unequally distributed, collateral effects.
Lockdowns have put many sustainable development goals out of reach. In many parts of the world there have been interruptions in childhood vaccinations, education, detection and treatment of infectious diseases (for example, tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV), and prevention of under 5-year-old and maternal mortality, projected to cost many millions of lives in the coming years. These interruptions in economic activity and supply chains are estimated to cause more than 83 million people to become food insecure, and over 70 million people to enter severe poverty (living on less than US$1.90/day), both likely to cost many more millions of lives in the coming years. Violence against women, including intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation, and child marriage are projected to also increase by many millions of cases.
In high-income countries other collateral damage from lockdowns is occurring. Fear of attending hospitals resulted in 50 percent declines in visits for heart attacks and strokes, meaning missed opportunity for time-critical treatments. ‘Non-urgent’ surgery and cancer diagnosis/treatment were delayed, with backlogs that will take years of catch-up and untold effects on prognoses. Of excess mortality during the pandemic, 20-50 percent has not been due to COVID-19 (see Kontis et al. 2020; Docherty et all 2020; and Postill et al 2020); much of that excess is likely attributable to these collateral effects. An unexplained increase in deaths of people with dementia in the US and UK also likely arose from deterioration due to loneliness. Over time, suicide, depression, alcohol use disorder, childhood trauma due to domestic violence, changes in marital status, and social isolation are projected to cause millions of years of life lost in Canada alone.
Dr. Joffe uses an approach that quantifies “Quality Adjusted Life Years” to weigh the benefits and costs of global covid shutdowns. Using that methodology, he concludes that the costs of shutdowns have exceeded the benefits by at least ten to one. He also notes that “Various cost-benefit analyses from different countries, including some of these costs, have consistently estimated the cost in lives from lockdowns to be at least five to 10 times higher than the benefit, and likely far higher.”
This kind of calculation is by no means an exact science, but I think it is fair to say that a scientific consensus is emerging to the effect that shutdowns do vastly more harm than good.