A global consensus has emerged that governmental responses to covid-19, which mainly involved shutdowns, limitations on mobility and other aspects of freedom, mask mandates, and vaccination requirements, did an enormous amount of harm. The issue is sometimes posed in terms of whether governments’ responses did more damage than the epidemic did. But that isn’t actually the right question. The epidemic happened. The question is whether the epidemic + government restrictions on freedom was better or worse than the epidemic alone would have been. And the answer is, worse. The net effect of government responses was catastrophically bad.
This paper, published just a few days ago by Kevin Bardosh of the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh Medical School, surveys the current learning on the impacts of governments’ covid responses:
Early in the Covid pandemic concerns were raised that lockdown and other non-pharmaceutical interventions would cause significant multidimensional harm to society. This paper comprehensively evaluates the global state of knowledge on these adverse social impacts, with an emphasis on their type and magnitude during 2020 and 2021.
A harm framework was developed spanning 10 categories: health, economy, income, food security, education, lifestyle, intimate relationships, community, environment and governance.
The analysis synthesizes 600 publications with a focus on meta-analyses, systematic reviews, global reports and multi-country studies. This cumulative academic research shows that the collateral damage of the pandemic response was substantial, wide-ranging and will leave behind a legacy of harm for hundreds of millions of people in the years ahead. Many original predictions are broadly supported by the research data including: a rise in non-Covid excess mortality, mental health deterioration, child abuse and domestic violence, widening global inequality, food insecurity, lost educational opportunities, unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, social polarization, soaring debt, democratic backsliding and declining human rights. Young people, individuals and countries with lower socioeconomic status, women and those with pre-existing vulnerabilities were hit hardest.
“[A] legacy of harm for hundreds of millions of people.” That naturally raises the question, will a price be paid by those who wantonly damaged hundreds of millions? Certainly politicians who emphasized freedom and minimized lockdown damage, like Ron DeSantis and Kristi Noem, have come out very well. But those who presided over the most devastating policies, including Gavin Newsom, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, don’t seem to have suffered. Andrew Cuomo, arguably the worst of the worst, is out of office, but that is due to his boorish conduct toward women, not to the thousands who died needlessly on his watch or the millions whose lives were degraded. And Anthony Fauci is, as far as one can tell, enjoying his retirement.
Some have called for Fauci and others to be criminally prosecuted, but I am not aware of any basis for such action. I do think, however, that we need a political accounting. Those who used covid as an excuse to exercise essentially fascistic powers, like Newsom, Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, and Minnesota’s Tim Walz, should be humiliated and driven from office. But so far, that isn’t happening.