On April 24, India’s daily new COVID-19 deaths were 2,760. The number has since jumped to 4,008 as of May 11.
To put the figures in perspective, the average daily number of dead in India from all causes was about 25,000 and over the past 13 months, Indians have died in greater numbers from 11 other causes including suicides. On the same day, tens of thousands protested in London against lockdowns and vaccination certificates.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the decision by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to open the state completely on March 2 reflected “Neanderthal thinking.” His coronavirus adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said it was “ill-advised,” “inexplicable” and would lead to surging cases. Yet the state’s seven-day moving averages of COVID-19 cases and deaths fell between March 2 and April 23 by 40% and 70%, respectively.
In the same period nonlockdown Florida’s COVID-19 deaths fell by 53%. But Michigan, among the staunchest of lockdown states, saw daily cases jump by 317% and deaths by 165% over this period. The New York Time’s COVID-19 map shows lockdown and open states are spread evenly right across the spectrum. Michigan was the only crimson-colored state, which indicated a severe infection risk.
In other words, data from around the world documents the King Canute-like fatal conceit of epidemiologists and governments that they can hold back the COVID-19 tide. In reality, no one has definitive answers and stronger restrictions have not resulted in fewer deaths. Lockdowns were imposed with no empirical basis for the belief that the highest-risk elderly people with comorbidities would be protected. A year’s data confirm that they were not.
The case study of the Diamond Princess cruise ship showed conclusively that SARS-CoV-2 does not keep growing exponentially forever. There are natural limits to its infectiousness, lethality and spread.
The health outcomes are about the same between the society-wide shutdowns and softer, mostly voluntary social distancing and personal hygiene guidance from health authorities. The economic, political freedoms and civil liberties costs are substantially higher for the most restrictive nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).
A study of 23 countries and 25 U.S. states last August found little evidence that variations in public policy explained the course of the pandemic in different places.
Another study of 226 countries in November concluded that “less disruptive and costly NPIs can be as effective as more intrusive, drastic ones (for example, a national lockdown).” A peer-reviewed article in January 2021 by a team from Stanford University showed that net harms exceed net gains between highly and less restrictive interventions.
A new research paper from professor Douglas Allen of British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University concludes that based on cost-benefit calculations, the lockdown practice could “go down as one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in Canada’s history.”
From March 1, 2020, to April 21, 2021, the world’s 3.07 million COVID-19 fatalities were exceeded by deaths due to flu and pneumonia (3.85 million), lung diseases (3.96 million), strokes (7.53 million) and heart diseases (12.29 million). On April 21, Chris Whitty, the U.K.’s chief medical officer, warned that coronavirus is likely to become endemic. He said there will always be some cases spreading in the community — exactly what many of us have said from the start.
On April 24, a group of 22 senior U.K. scientists, including many advisers to the government, called for an end to social distancing, mask mandates, mass community testing and plans for vaccine passports so that people can “take back control of their own lives.” For most vaccinated and other low-risk people, they said, “COVID-19 is now a mild endemic infection, likely to recur in seasonal waves, which renew immunity without significantly stressing the NHS (National Health Service).”
This echoes the World Health Organization’s advice in an authoritative, state-of-the-science report in October 2019. The scientific and policy consensus was written into the national pandemic plans of many countries including Australia, Canada and the U.K. The national plans of the Western democracies shared in common an ethical framework that respected individual liberty, privacy and confidentiality of the medical records of individuals, and most warned of likely pandemic fatigue with prolonged NPI restrictions.
Unfortunately, some in the world have succumbed to mass hysteria due to alarmist and erroneous reporting out of China and Italy. The panic button was also pushed by Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London on March 16, 2020, with their grim predictions of 510,000 dead in the U.K. and 2.2 million in the U.S. unless immediate mitigation measures were taken.
Their subsequent modeling for other countries, highlighted recently by Phillip Magness for the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), projected Japan’s deaths to hit 469,064 — with lockdowns under the most conservative assumptions — with a reproduction rate of 2.4 (the average number of additional people that each person with COVID-19 infects) and 1,474,438 in an unmitigated spread with a reproduction rate of 3.3. Japan’s actual COVID-19 mortality toll remains below 10,000. The AIER also has a list of 33 studies that question the effectiveness of lockdowns.
The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is being hailed as a medical miracle. Their rollouts are being strategized according to rigorous assessments that balance age and occupation, as well as other differentiated risks and benefits. The same should have been done by adopting the strategy of focused protection recommended by world-leading epidemiologists from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford universities in the Great Barrington Declaration. That declaration has been signed by 57,000 medical practitioners and public health scientists, plus 788,000 concerned citizens from around the world.
The coronavirus is now endemic and, according to many scientists, will likely keep circulating around the world, receding and surging in seasonal patterns and mutating annually just like flu.
A new study in the top medical journal Lancet found that having had COVID-19 provides a 92% relative risk reduction against re-infection. That compares to 94% to 95% for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines and 67% to 70% for the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. Still, that is all without knowing the long-term risks of side effects from vaccines.
To accelerate herd immunity, which is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population becomes immune either through vaccinations or immunities developed through previous infections, it would seem to make sense to prioritize the high-risk, front-line health care workers, elderly and otherwise vulnerable people for vaccination before moving to the already infected.
To incentivize people to get vaccinated, governments should promote the idea that the sooner the vast majority of the population is vaccinated, the quicker life will return to normal, including unrestricted travel.
Ramesh Thakur is an emeritus professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.