Lockdowns are typically portrayed as prudent precautions against Covid-19, but they are surely the most risky experiment ever conducted on the public. From the start, researchers have warned that lockdowns could prove far deadlier than the coronavirus. People who lose their jobs or businesses are more prone to fatal drug overdoses and suicide, and evidence already exists that many more will die from cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, and tuberculosis and other diseases because the lockdown prevented their ailments from being diagnosed early and treated properly.
Yet politicians and public-health officials conducting this unprecedented experiment have paid little attention to these risks. In their initial rush to lock down society, they insisted that there was no time for such analysis—and besides, these were just temporary measures to “flatten the curve” so as not to overwhelm hospitals. But since that danger passed, the lockdown enforcers have found one reason after another to persevere with closures, bans, quarantines, curfews, and other mandates. Anthony Fauci, the White House advisor, recently said that even if a vaccine arrives soon, he does not expect a return to normality before late next year.
He and politicians like New York governor Andrew Cuomo and British prime minister Boris Johnson profess to be following “the science,” but no ethical scientist would conduct such a risky experiment without carefully considering the dangers and monitoring the results. After doing so, a group of leading researchers this week called for an end to the experiment. In a joint statement, the Great Barrington Declaration, they predicted that continued lockdowns will lead to “excess mortality in years to come” and warned of “irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.”
While the economic and social costs have been enormous, it’s not clear that the lockdowns have brought significant health benefits beyond what was achieved by people’s voluntary social distancing and other actions. Some researchers have credited lockdowns with slowing the pandemic, but they’ve relied on mathematical models with assumptions about people’s behavior and the virus’s tendency to spread—the kinds of models and assumptions that previously produced wild overestimates of how many people would die during the pandemic. Other researchers have sought more direct evidence, looking at mortality patterns. They have detected little impact.