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Is the lockdown costing more lives than it saves?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 20, 2020

“By staying home, we’re saving lives.” How often have you heard that logic during the last several months? Let’s take a closer look at it.

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If you know or even suspect that you have a highly infectious and potentially deadly disease, then of course, you should stay home; if you’re out and about, you’re putting others at risk. But what if there’s no reason to suspect that you’re infected with the disease? What if 99% of the people who do catch the disease survive it—in most cases, without serious symptoms? In that case, when a productive citizen stays home, there’s a cost to society—a cost that can ultimately be measured in lives.

In The Price of Panic, three authors—Douglas Axe, William Brigg, and Jay Richards—try to put the Covid epidemic in perspective. The authors do not downplay the dangers of Covid. They simply weigh those dangers against the undoubted costs of the draconian measures with which public officials have responded. They contend:

This virus triggered panic long before it compared to any other global catastrophe… Never before had scores of countries around the world chosen to perform such economic harikari in unison.

That is a bold appraisal: one virtually guaranteed to ensure that The Price of Panic is not reviewed—not even mentioned—by mainstream media outlets. Since the lockdowns began in March, the media outlets have competed with each other to run the most sensational headlines about the rise in case counts, the most frightening stories about potential fatalities, the most exaggerated accounts of hospital overcrowding. Bad news sells, and Covid has provided editors with a bonanza of bad news. It’s clickbait. It’s panic-porn. It’s obsessive.

The social-media giants, Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, have done their part to fan the flames, suppressing questions about the alarmist narrative. This has been done, the gatekeepers of the internet inform us, because it is responsible to suppress dissent in this case, because by stressing the urgency of the situation, they are saving lives. So we’re back to the statement with which I began this column: We’re doing these things to save lives.

But are we? That question could mean either of two things: Are we motivated by the desire to save lives? Are we actually saving lives? The Price of Panic pursues both questions.

Are public officials, when they order ever-stricter lockdown measures, motivated entirely by the desire to save lives? A reasonably prudent observer should notice that the lockdowns concentrate power in the hands of a few officials. The governor decides when an emergency exists; the governor decides what you should do during an emergency; the governor decides when (if ever) the emergency has ended. The governor, in short, has an awful lot of power as long as the epidemic rages. And how many people, having tasted power, want to renounce it?

For that matter, how many politicians, having ordered drastic public policies, want to admit that they have failed? The lockdown policies have been ordered by governors and mayors on the basis of suggestions from public-health officials. Can we reasonably expect those public-health officials, and/or those elected politicians, to admit that they chose wrongly?

The lockdown began because public-health officials predicted an unprecedented disaster. We’ll never know what might have happened if our political leaders had declined to impose harsh restrictions on society (although we might look to Sweden, and learn some interesting lessons). But we do know that the “expert” predictions have been consistently wrong. The authors of The Price of Panic observe that under some circumstances—such as the ones prevailing today—prophets pay no penalty for inaccurate predictions:

Elijah predicted a drought… However right he was, no one wanted to hear what Elijah had to say. No one thanked him when the prophesied drought came to pass.

Being wrong in the right direction, though, often reaps reward. Early pandemic models indicated that only prompt and massive state action could save us. The models were wrong—way off—but they were wrong in the right direction. They gave politicians justification for taking over almost every aspect of citizens’ lives. They gave the press clickbait galore.

The constant drive to accentuate the negative—the competition to provide bad news—discouraged the sort of “wait a minute” skepticism that might have made the “experts” uneasy, and led political leaders to hesitate about following their advice. Early in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was advising that “non-pharmaceutical public health measures” like lockdowns and social distancing and masks and contact tracing would have “limited” use in fighting a flu-type epidemic. As recently as February—just a few weeks before the lockdowns began—the Surgeon General of the US tweeted: “Seriously, people—STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

Those advisories are now “inoperative”—to use a term made famous by the embattled Nixon White House. But the lockdowns continue. And when lockdowns and testing fail to stop the spread of the virus, officials order tighter lockdowns and more testing. To step back just for a moment, and ask about the effectiveness of these measures, is to risk public censure. But The Price of Panic takes the risk, and concludes: “Whether we compare countries or US states, the virus seemed indifferent to government-mandated lockdowns.”

There really isn’t much evidence at all that lockdowns are saving lives. There is abundant evidence, on the other hand, that the lockdowns have imposed immense costs on society. The economic costs—the businesses going bankrupt, the restaurants closed, the family firms destroyed—are unmistakable. Slightly less obvious, but more frightening, are the costs to people with medical problems not related to Covid. The authors challenge us:

Imagine needing hip surgery, suffering in pain for months while the hospital is half empty and your surgeon has had to furlough staff for lack of patients. Then multiply that a few million times to get some sense of the collective toll of these misguided policies.

Still more difficult to measure, yet still more deadly, are the emotional and psychological costs of the lockdown. We don’t know how many elderly people have died alone, desolate in their rooms in nursing homes because they could not see their children. We don’t know how many lonely people will be weeping this week because they could not enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with their families. But we do know that deaths associated with loneliness and depression, such as suicides and drug overdoses, have soared this year.

The lockdown is costing lives—more surely than it is saving lives. So if we are all “staying home to save lives,” we’re making a deadly mistake.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Nov. 23, 2020 5:23 PM ET USA

    What about the political toll of the declared pandemic? Fear and cunning allowed over 65 million U.S. citizens to vote by mail before what used to be known as "election day". It will be impossible to determine the extent of voter fraud that took place leading up to, during, and after "election day" because of the lack of transparency, but abundant secrecy, during the weeks-long vote "count". This political disgrace will continue for another 8 weeks, centering in Georgia. Pray to God for justice.

  • Posted by: pharmer94 - Nov. 22, 2020 1:13 PM ET USA

    I agree. Every decision comes with a price. In round one (the spring), we did not have much information, so it was a lot of guesses as to what would help. As I feel like we're entering round two, we know more and should be wiser, but in the name of "saving lives" it seems we are throwing logic out the window. There are always risks: you can die in a car accident, you can die staying at home. Sadly, I think we will look back on this pandemic and realize that we did not make wise decisions.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Nov. 22, 2020 4:26 AM ET USA

    The rules surrounding Covid are all about power and control. It is sold to us as safety. We are neither safe nor free. We have become sheep. Look how many times Fauci has been wrong yet we still encouraged to follow him particularly by media. This is the "Do as you are told" idiot. When will we learn to use common sense!

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Nov. 22, 2020 4:11 AM ET USA

    We reacted to panic and because we indirectly came in contact with Covid. We cancelled our Thanksgiving dinner. We were tested and waiting for clearance. But still cancelled dinner missing out on our grandchildren from 2 families. Not sure we made the right decision. Will know by 11/23.

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 21, 2020 1:24 PM ET USA

    Some people uncritically accept the relentless panic propaganda and they will be the problem. I saw a woman receiving Holy Communion in rubber gloves and a man driving his car with a face shield on. Common sense will not return unless the propaganda is challenged and slows down. Thank you for bringing this up!

  • Posted by: philtech2465 - Nov. 20, 2020 10:27 PM ET USA

    The longer I endure the pandemic and governmental reaction, the more I don't like it. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 resulted in 50 million deaths, in an era where the world population was 1.5 billion. The COVID pandemic of 2020, in a world of 7.8 billion, has resulted so far in 1.37 million deaths worldwide. Certainly, that is tragic, but nothing like previous pandemics. We have lost perspective, demanding absolute safety that past generations never dreamed of.