Notable by its absence from the House of Commons’ pro-lockdown report was any mention of cost-benefit analysis. Indeed, the authors sidestepped the single most important question – was the lockdown worth it? – and went straight to saying that we should have locked down sooner!
Had they attempted to weigh up the costs and benefits, their report’s conclusions might have looked very different – assuming, of course, that they didn’t bungle the analysis. Remember: there are things to consider other than Covid outcomes.
Cost-benefit analyses published since the summer of 2020 have not been kind to lockdowns (which may explain their lack of inclusion in the House of Commons’ report). In a new paper, Ari Joffe and David Redman review 11 studies, each of which estimated impact using a common metric (e.g., the QALY).
Their results are shown in the table below. Each study’s main finding is given in the right-hand column.
All 11 studies found evidence that lockdowns do more harm than good. Among the nine that directly compared costs and benefits, the smallest ratio of costs to benefits was 2.5, and the largest was 26.
What’s more, the studies generally made assumptions favourable to lockdowns (e.g., that they have a large impact on the epidemic’s trajectory). Hence, in the authors’ words, their results “strongly suggest that lockdowns do not have a favorable cost-benefit balance”.
Joffe and Redman’s paper not only reviews cost-benefit analyses of lockdown, but also sets out an alternative plan for dealing with Covid (or, perhaps, with a similar pandemic virus in the future). Their plan specifies that the goal should be minimising harm to society “as a whole”, rather than – say – minimising the total number of Covid deaths.
It contains a number of appealing elements: increasing surge capacity; providing focused protection for the elderly; and reporting relevant information with context (e.g., number of deaths from all causes alongside the number of Covid deaths).
The paper by Joffe and Redman contains a lot of useful insights, and is worth reading in full.