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Lockdowns prevented just 0.2 per cent of deaths in comparison with just trusting people to do the right thing, a new study has suggested.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the US, Lund University in Sweden and the Centre for Political Studies in Denmark said that the costs to society far outweighed the benefits and called for lockdown to be “rejected out of hand” as a future pandemic policy.

The team even found that some lockdown measures may have increased deaths by stopping access to outdoor space, “pushing people to meet at less safe places” while isolating infected people indoors where they could pass on the virus to family members and housemates.

“We do find some evidence that limiting gatherings was counterproductive and increased Covid-19 mortality,” the authors concluded.

“Often, lockdowns have limited people’s access to safe outdoor places such as beaches, parks, and zoos, or included outdoor mask mandates or strict outdoor gathering restrictions, pushing people to meet at less safe indoor places.”

To calculate the benefits of lockdown, the researchers looked at 24 academic papers estimating their effectiveness as well as other interventions such as wearing masks, business and school closures, border closures and stay-at-home orders.

They found that some measures did save lives. Closing non-essential businesses was estimated to have lowered mortality by about 10.6 per cent, a fall largely driven by closing drinking establishments.

Socialising was allowed in Sweden during the first wave of the pandemic, in stark contrast to Britain Credit: TT News Agency/Anders Wiklund via Reuters

Shutting schools probably also lowered deaths by 4.4 per cent, while asking people to stay at home prevented 2.9 per cent of deaths, and border controls roughly 0.1 per cent.

However, they found legally enforced lockdowns were only a tiny bit better at cutting deaths than allowing the public to follow recommendations such as working from home and limiting social contact, as happened in countries such as Sweden.

The first lockdown prevented just 0.2 per cent of deaths, they concluded – which for Britain in the first wave would mean it saved about 100 lives out of 52,000 – when compared to letting people take precautions themselves.

Jonas Herby, a special adviser at the Centre for Political Studies and one of the study’s authors, told The Telegraph: “When we look at lockdown, we don’t find much of an effect. We think that most people don’t want to get sick or infect their neighbours, so if you just give people the proper knowledge they do the right thing to take care of themselves, and others, and so that’s why lockdowns don’t work.

“In general, we should trust that people can make the right decisions, so the key thing is to educate them and tell them when the infection rates are high and when it’s dangerous to go out and how to protect yourself.

“One possible reason that lockdowns seem ineffective is that some measures are counterproductive. There is some evidence that putting limits on gatherings actually increased the number of deaths.”

‘Human nature’ to socially distance

Researchers said it was clear that the public would naturally socially distance and cut their contacts even without state intervention Researchers said it was clear that the public would naturally socially distance and cut their contacts even without state intervention Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

The authors criticised the original Imperial College London model which suggested that Britain could see 500,000 deaths without a lockdown, saying it did not take into account the real-world behaviour of people during a pandemic.

Researchers said it was clear that the public would naturally socially distance and cut their contacts even without state intervention, leading to a large drop in deaths. 

Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins and another of the study’s authors, said: “Lockdowns in Europe and the US decreased Covid-19 mortality by a measly 0.2 per cent on average, while the economic costs of lockdowns were enormous. I find zero evidence to support lockdowns.”

One of the studies cited in the review found that voluntary behavioural changes are 10 times as important as mandatory behavioural changes in combating Covid-19.

They also found that lockdowns only regulate “a fraction of our potential contagious contacts” and cannot enforce hand washing, coughing etiquette or how close people stand together in supermarkets.

Countries such as Denmark, Finland and Norway, which all kept mortality relatively low, allowed people to go to work, use public transport and meet privately at home during the first lockdown, the authors said.

Social cost of imposing lockdowns

Lockdown and Covid protest The study’s authors concluded that lockdowns had devastating effects, one of which was an increase in scepticism towards liberal democracy and authority Credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

They concluded: “Lockdowns during the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic have had devastating effects. They have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence and undermining liberal democracy.

“These costs to society must be compared to the benefits of lockdowns, which our meta-analysis has shown are marginal at best. Such a standard benefit-cost calculation leads to a strong conclusion: lockdowns should be rejected out of hand as a pandemic policy instrument.”

Since January 2021, Boris Johnson has resisted calls for further lockdowns despite calls from experts, yet the NHS has not been overwhelmed.

Critics of the study claimed that the authors have conflicting interests, particularly Prof Hanke who has been an outspoken critic of restrictions that damage the economy.

He also signed the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for the shielding of the most vulnerable while allowing the virus to spread through society, allowing the build-up of natural immunity.

Many scientists believe that lockdowns were essential before vaccines and antiviral drugs were available with one study suggesting the first lockdown saved 20,000 lives in Britain.

Imperial College London also estimated that lockdowns saved about 3.1 million lives in Europe, including 470,000 in Britain.

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