Lockdown harms

Did Lockdowns Push 100 Million People Into Extreme Poverty?

Gathering data on extreme poverty is difficult at the best of times, but it’s doubly harder (or well-nigh impossible) during a pandemic. Such data are typically collected via face-to-face household surveys, but these were put on hold last year.

In a study of 122 national statistical offices carried out in May of 2020, the World Bank found that 69% had completely stopped collecting data via face-to-face surveys, and a further 27% had partly stopped (leaving only 4% that had continued with normal data collection).

We therefore don’t yet have good data on the effect of the pandemic on extreme poverty. However, there are ways of estimating how many people are in poverty, using data from national accounts (i.e., GDP per capita). These data are not collected via face-to-face surveys, so it has still been possible to obtain them during the pandemic.

In order to estimate (or ‘nowcast’) the number of people in poverty, the World Bank takes the last year for which the full income distribution was known, and then shifts it left or right, depending how much GDP per capita grew between that year and the current year. (See the diagram on p.5 here.)

Using this method, World Bank researchers calculate that 97 million people fell into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic. In the chart below, 97 million is equal to the difference between 732 million (the estimated number of people in extreme poverty) and 635 million (the expected number).

This “represents a historically unprecedented increase in global poverty”. Note that the increase was concentrated in the Middle East, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Interestingly, the World Bank projects that there will be 21 million fewer people in extreme poverty in 2021. This represents a year-on-year change of –2.9%, which is approximately the same as the annual declines observed in the years before the pandemic.

This decrease in extreme poverty is somewhat unexpected, given that 2021 has seen some of the largest epidemics in low and middle-income countries. “Would these developments not suggest,” the researchers ask, “that poverty is bound to increase further in 2021?”

So why is poverty projected to decline? The researchers suggest that the lifting of lockdown measures may be a factor. In 2020, many developing countries responded to the pandemic by locking down major parts of their economy.

“These lockdowns decreased incomes and employment, causing an increase in extreme poverty,” say the researchers. Yet in 2021 “the appetite for lockdowns has been smaller”. As a matter of fact, the difference in the policy response between 2020 and 2021 is reflected in the Oxford Blavatnik School’s Stringency Index.

“In May 2020, on average 25 out of 27 low-income countries in OxCGRT had a stringency index value higher than 50, whereas in May 2021, on average 10 low-income countries crossed that threshold.”

Of course, lockdowns may not account for all of the 97 million people pushed into extreme poverty last year. But it’s plausible that they account for some. Even 50 million would be a massive figure to add to the costs side of the ledger.

New Paper Claims Lockdowns Do Not Cause More Health Harms Than They Prevent, but It Misses the Big Picture

A new paper in BMJ Global Health purports to debunk lockdown sceptics’ claim that “the cure is worse than the disease”. However, it misses the big picture; in fact, it hasn’t shifted my priors one jot.

The paper contains no new data or analysis. Rather, it comprises a review of the existing literature. The authors focus on the claim that “lockdowns cause more health harms than COVID-19 by examining their impacts on mortality, routine health services, global health programmes and suicide and mental health”.

In other words, they attempt to show that lockdowns do not cause more health harms than they prevent. Notice: this is not the same as showing that lockdowns pass an overall cost-benefit test. Even if lockdowns were a net positive for public health, they could still be a massive net negative for society (taking into account their effects on the economy, education and civil liberties).

The strongest argument the authors make (with which I was already familiar) is that excess mortality in countries like Australia and New Zealand – which managed to contain the virus – was zero or negative last year. Since these countries did not experience an epidemic of COVID-19, but did see weeks or even months of lockdown, the lack of excess mortality suggests that lockdowns themselves do not cause many deaths.  

However, some lockdown sceptics would argue that – even if lockdowns don’t cause many deaths in the short-term – they do cause more deaths in the long-term, via missed cancer screenings, drug overdoses etc. And here the authors are much less persuasive.

They concede that “the connection between lockdowns and missed contact with health systems is very well established”. However, they claim this association “may be related to lack of capacity of healthcare services or impacts of the pandemic itself rather than measures taken by governments”.

There is “no doubt”, the authors admit, “that global health programmes have been disrupted”. But they argue such disruptions were caused by “multiple complex direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19, not just stay-at-home orders”.

So they acknowledge that lockdowns do have harmful long-term effects. And given that those long-term effects are yet to be quantified, the authors have little basis for concluding that lockdowns are “unlikely to be causing harms more extreme than the pandemic itself”.

Lockdown Summit of Experts and Analysts Challenges the Narrative on Lockdowns, Testing, Masks and More

The Question Everything Lockdown Summit took place in London yesterday and featured contributions from many of the lockdown sceptics that have featured prominently on this site over the past year, including Professor David Paton, Professor David Livermore, Dr Clare Craig, Toby and myself. The full video recording (nine hours) is now up on Dan Astin-Gregory’s YouTube channel to watch at leisure. The schedule ran as follows, with time stamps within the links.

Lockdown Summit to Take Place on July 17th – Register Now

Toby and I will be joining HART members Professor Karol Sikora, Professor David Paton, Professor Norman Fenton and Dr Clare Craig among a host of other experts at the sceptical Question Everything summit in London on Saturday July 17th. The event, entitled Lockdowns – Is Now the Time for a Better Solution?, will feature panellists and speakers from science, social science, law and industry, including Luke Johnson, Dr Peter McCullough and Francis Hoar. The global response to COVID-19 will be scrutinised and proposals for the future discussed in a one day summit which will be live-streamed to the public. The aim is to explore how the world can responsibly return to normality without further harmful lockdowns.

The event, the first in a series, will consist of a full programme of nine sessions across the morning and afternoon. Some sessions will see expert speakers give short keynote presentations on the scientific, political, legal, economic and social issues, interspersed with longer moderated panel discussions. The main thrust of the day is to critically assess lockdowns and to explore how the world might be better prepared for future pandemics without resorting to extreme measures of unclear efficacy. The format will encourage discussion and there will be two open Q&As which will make for a fascinating and educational day.

More information can be found on the Question Everything website, where you can also register to receive full details about the event and watch the summit via live stream.

Lockdowns “Did Not Lead to Reductions in Excess Deaths” – Study

A new study, published as a working paper for the leading U.S. think tank National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), has shown (once again) that lockdown policies produced no discernible reduction of the pandemic death toll. If anything, they increased it.

The study uses excess deaths rather than Covid deaths to avoid the problems of different ways of counting Covid deaths, and also to capture policy deaths from lockdowns and other Government responses. It looks at the death tolls in 43 countries and all U.S. states to see how they varied with the length and timeliness of lockdown “shelter-in-place” (SIP) orders.

The authors find that longer lockdowns led to more excess deaths: “Countries with a longer duration of SIP [shelter in place] policies are the ones with higher excess deaths per 100,000 residents.” For U.S. states the finding was similar but less pronounced.

In U.S. states, earlier lockdowns were associated with slightly higher excess deaths rather than lower as lockdown theory would predict. In the comparison of countries, on the other hand, the predicted relationship was found.

To account for differences between countries and states (such as demographics) the authors carried out “event studies” to see how much each country or state’s excess deaths changed following lockdown from its pre-lockdown trend. This analysis showed that, prior to implementing lockdown policies, the trend of lockdown countries was towards having lower excess deaths than countries that didn’t implement lockdowns. However, after lockdown those trends were reversed so that lockdown countries started to have progressively worse excess deaths compared to no-lockdown countries.

Long Covid ‘Symptoms’ in Teens are No Less Common in Those Who Haven’t Had the Virus – Study

The risk of long Covid – the persistence of Covid symptoms like fatigue and headaches for three months or more – has been used to justify health interventions including with younger people who are not at elevated risk from acute infection. For instance, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested in April that young people should get vaccinated to avoid long Covid, saying Covid was a “horrible disease” and long Covid affected people in their 20s “just as much” as any other age group, sometimes with “debilitating side effects that essentially ruin your life”.

New research, however, casts doubt on whether symptoms attributed to long Covid are really associated with COVID-19 at all, at least in adolescents.

The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, is the first (as far as the authors are aware) to compare the incidence of long Covid symptoms in those who have and have not had the virus, defined in terms of having detectable antibodies. It involved 1,560 secondary school pupils aged 13 to 18 in Eastern Saxony (median age 15) enrolled in the SchoolCovid19 study since May 2020. All have been tested for antibodies throughout the study and in March and April 2021 completed a 12 question long-Covid survey regarding “the occurrence and frequency of difficulties concentrating, memory loss, listlessness, headache, abdominal pain, myalgia/arthralgia, fatigue, insomnia and mood (sadness, anger, happiness and tenseness)”.

The findings are remarkable. Of 1,560 pupils, 1,365 (88%) were seronegative (no IgG antibodies detected) and 188 (12%) were seropositive. Each of the long Covid symptoms was present in at least 35% of the pupils within the seven days before the survey. Crucially, however, there was no statistically significant difference in reported symptoms between seropositive and seronegative pupils (see chart above).

These findings suggest that, in adolescents at least, the prevalence of long Covid is considerably exaggerated, and that the presumed symptoms of long Covid are common to those who have and have not had the virus. One possibility is that this is a background rate for teenagers. However, the authors are struck by the high incidence of the symptoms and suggest they may be linked to the lockdown conditions, saying they confirm “the negative effects of lockdown measures on mental health and well-being of children and adolescents”.

Because the study was only among adolescents it did not include any who had suffered severe illness or been hospitalised, which is where some earlier research on long Covid has focused.

For adolescents it suggests that the threat from long Covid has been greatly overdone, and that the apparent symptoms of the condition are much more likely to be caused by lockdowns than by a viral infection.

Website Launched to Document the Harms of Lockdown

Today marks the official launch of the website Collateral Global, which aims to “to build an evidence-based understanding of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic response measures to inform future policies and strategies for pandemic preparedness”.

The editorial board contains many faces that will be familiar to Lockdown Sceptics readers, including Jay Bhattacharya, Sunetra Gupta and Martin Kulldorff (the authors of The Great Barrington Declaration), as well as Oxford’s Carl Heneghan and the LSE’s Paul Dolan.

Through a series of themed editions, the website promises “original content highlighting everything from expert opinion and academic summaries to human stories and video diaries”. The theme of the first edition is introductory. It includes an editor’s note from Jay Bhattacharya, an essay on the ethics of lockdown by Oxford’s Alberto Giubilini, and several other contributions.

Bhattacharya doesn’t pull any punches in his editorial, which begins:

In 1915, chemistry lost its innocence when mustard gas poisoned British troops in Ypres, Belgium. Physics lost its innocence in 1945 amongst the radioactive rubble of Hiroshima, Japan. Public health lost its innocence in March 2020 when the world adopted lockdowns as a primary tool to control the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though he acknowledges, “As with war, not everything that came out of lockdown was bad and our reporting will reflect that truth.” According to the FAQs, the website “has no political or institutional affiliations” – its only allegiance is to “the enduring principles of scientific inquiry”.

Collateral Global is set to provide a range of interesting content, so do check it out.

The Growing Plague of Mandatory Testing in UK Workplaces

A Lockdown Sceptics reader has written to tell us about mandatory testing that’s happening at his workplace.

Regarding the story on Durham University today and lateral flow tests, you’ll probably be aware that there’s a growing problem of mandatory testing in workplaces.

I work in an office in London and we were told this week that twice-weekly tests are mandatory to come into the office. We currently have about 10 people coming in out of a possible 200+.

To make it worse, we were originally told these tests were advisory, but now apparently they are mandatory – something to do with the firm’s “duty of care to those with hidden underlying health conditions”. The people being tested are the same people who’ve been vaccinated of course, which shows the senselessness of the whole thing. And arguably makes the testing permanent, given that having been vaccinated doesn’t absolve you of the need to get tested twice a week.

People who hadn’t taken the test this week were sent home halfway through the day, despite having reasonable objections, including having recently had the virus (and so having the antibodies that meant they could neither catch it nor pass it on), and others not being prepared to risk having to self-isolate, given individual circumstances that make that impossible. Of course, companies can do as they please – but this is all so self-defeating and driven by all the wrong instincts.

Those of us grateful to still have a job and income have to pick and choose our battles. But why is there not more of an outcry over mandatory testing? Will mandatory vaccinations be next? You could make a case for all this (I personally wouldn’t) in a care home, but not in a normal office. Many people will say it’s the price we have to pay for getting back to normal, but it’s a high price.

My own circumstances are even worse but probably not unique. I refuse to comply with any of this because my partner had a miscarriage a few months ago, caused, we believe, by having to carry something heavy in her workplace which colleagues wouldn’t help with “due to the social distancing rules”. This is the true hidden horrific cost of lockdown and the other measures. She was then made to suffer alone in hospital on multiple occasions (family not allowed in), and even the paramedics were reluctant to come to the house – for a critical emergency – without ascertaining her Covid status. The cruelty of lockdown and the restrictions is my biggest bugbear, quite aside from its efficacy.

If other readers have stories about mandatory testing in their workplace, do email them to us here (saying whether you’re happy for us to publish your name).

Bridge to Nowhere

There follows a guest post by Professor Roger Watson and Dr Niall McCrae.

Suicide is always a tragic event and information is not easy to obtain. This is for good reason, to prevent ‘hot spots’ being advertised and to reduce copycat events. Nevertheless, any landmark with altitude attracts suicide attempts and very few survivals. Sadly, the Humber Bridge is one such spot and only the most notable are reported such as double suicides, for example, and attempted double suicides involving a mother and child.

Since the Humber Bridge opened in 1981 there have been over 200 suicides, which approximates to just below five annually. Merely five persons survived the fall. In the most recent complete annual figures we can find, from a 2019 study of suicides in Hull, three were attributed to jumping from the structure dubbed “the bridge to nowhere”. But the toll appears to have risen sharply under the COVID-19 regime.

In the last month alone there were six deaths from suicide on the Humber Bridge, many of them young people. This has prompted the closure of the footpaths and cycling commuters from Lincolnshire into East Yorkshire have to make special arrangements to cross the bridge to and from work. In none of the reports do we see any specific mention of the impact of lockdown; this is hardly surprising as the local newspapers have tended, like the mainstream media, to be “on message” regarding the need for COVID-19 restrictions. Were he still alive, we would be minded to consult Philip Larkin on this human calamity, and its callous cause.

‘We Should Hang Our Heads in Shame Over the Way We Have Treated Children in Lockdown’

Professor of Psychology Ellen Townsend, a member of HART, has appeared on Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan’s podcast Planet Normal to tell them how harmful lockdowns have been to the nation’s children.

For Professor Ellen Townsend, it’s simple: “We’re putting adults first when we should be putting children first.” The result, according to the University of Nottingham academic, is “a real disaster” for young people and an approach she feels the country will come to regret, citing widely-reported mental health concerns and a sharp increase in youth unemployment.

Speaking to The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, Professor Townsend tells columnists and podcast hosts, Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan, why she believes it’s now vital for the Government to implement a “trauma-informed recovery approach” to ease young people out of lockdown. The emphasis, she says, should lie on mental recovery rather than catching up on school work: “If we don’t have mental health and wellbeing, the learning is just not going to take place.” And a second plan is needed for the “morally questionable” way in which she believes the Government has induced fear in the young: “If I were to induce any kind of emotion in the lab, for example, I would ethically expect to make sure that people left the lab feeling as good or better than they did when they came in… I’d have an exit plan. What worries me about what has happened is there doesn’t seem to be an exit plan to de-escalate the fear.”

Worth listening to in full (no subscription required).