Do Lockdowns Work? The Numbers Say No

The effectiveness of lockdown measures by countries and states has been hotly debated for the last two years. Various measures have been tried enough times, in enough places, over a long enough period of time, that we ought to be able to arrive at a reasonably definitive answer.

This study, titled “A Literature Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Lockdowns on COVID-19 Mortality,” published by The Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise, seeks to do just that. The study’s methodology strikes me as impressive. It began with a population of several thousand studies that could be relevant, but the authors winnowed the field down to 24 studies that met the authors’ criteria for inclusion.

This study is well worth reading in its entirety, but the abstract states its conclusion clearly:

This systematic review and meta-analysis are designed to determine whether there is empirical evidence to support the belief that “lockdowns” reduce COVID-19 mortality. Lockdowns are defined as the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI). NPIs are any government mandate that directly restrict peoples’ possibilities, such as policies that limit internal movement, close schools and businesses, and ban international travel. This study employed a systematic search and screening procedure in which 18,590 studies are identified that could potentially address the belief posed. After three levels of screening, 34 studies ultimately qualified. Of those 34 eligible studies, 24 qualified for inclusion in the meta-analysis. They were separated into three groups: lockdown stringency index studies, shelter-in-place-order (SIPO) studies, and specific NPI studies. An analysis of each of these three groups support the conclusion that lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality. More specifically, stringency index studies find that lockdowns in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average. SIPOs were also ineffective, only reducing COVID-19 mortality by 2.9% on average. Specific NPI studies also find no broad-based evidence of noticeable effects on COVID-19 mortality.

While this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects, they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted. In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.

Emphasis added. This study’s conclusion is consistent with the broad observation that, whether one looks at different countries or at the U.S. by states, there is no apparent correlation between lockdown measures that have been taken, and results in terms of covid deaths, hospitalizations or cases. The same is true of mask requirements. The burden is on those who would continue to oppress the rest of us with limitations on our activities or mask requirements to prove, empirically, that such measures have benefits that outweigh their enormous costs.

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