The Irrationality of the Lockdowns

17 June 2021

by Glen Bishop

Much has been said on Lockdown Sceptics about how poor the SPI-M modelling has been – the naivety of the assumptions, how demonstrably ridiculous the projections were and are when compared to Florida, South Dakota and elsewhere, and how far we currently are below their most optimistic scenarios for deaths and hospitalisations. This is certainly true yet is merely semantics because imposing lockdowns and restrictions would still be irrational even if they were correct. Assuming the counterfactual to be true, i.e., Ferguson’s famous 500,000 deaths prediction in the ‘do nothing’ scenario, I will lay the case below as to why our Covid response has not been reasonable but hysterical, financially and in terms of cost to life, even if the Ferguson prediction were the reality that had been avoided.   

Firstly, as of July 19th, the new prospective date for lockdowns end, the citizens of our glorious ‘free country’ will have been under house arrest or had to endure harsh restrictions for 483 days. What then is the gain from such a sacrifice? According to the Ferguson estimate, if 500,000 people would have died from Covid had these measures not been imposed, then a total of (500,000-128,000) 372,000 lives have been saved. Actuarial tables estimate an average number of years of life lost to a Covid death of seven years. So, a total of 2.6 million life years have been ‘saved’ due to the lockdowns, according to Ferguson’s original model. That equates to an individual sacrifice per person of the 68 million UK population yielding 0.038 years of extra life, or 13.9 days for somebody who would otherwise have died of Covid.  Put simply, if Ferguson was correct, then you personally will have sacrificed 483 days of your life to give someone, who for the most part is in their 70s, 80s or 90s, less than 14 days of extra life, on average. 

More realistically, let’s assume the UK would have had a worse death toll per capita than anywhere else in the world without lockdowns and we would have had an additional 100,000 deaths rather than Ferguson’s 372,000. This would mean people, including children and the young had spent nearly 500 days under restrictions, denied education and the basic human need to socialise, in order to give 3.7 days extra life to an elderly person. The reality of what has just been done cannot be stated baldly enough – 483 days of harsh restrictions for less than four days of extra life to an elderly person. Yet, we who oppose this horrendous sacrifice mainly borne by the young on the altar of virtue signalling about ‘saving lives’ are labelled selfish. I think not. If there is any moral imperative on British citizens, it is to protect children. The opposite has been done. 

Financially, the test for rationality of a response to public health is the one used, until the Covid hysteria, by the NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE is the body that decides whether treatments, technologies and medicines are beneficial enough to warrant their cost. The upper limit the NHS and NICE are willing to pay for a treatment yielding one extra quality adjusted life year (QALY) is £30,000. If £30,000 is the accepted limit that can sustainably be spent by society on giving an individual one extra quality year of life, then have lockdowns met this test? Even with Ferguson’s projections, they aren’t even close.  

As mentioned, using the 500,000 deaths projection would lead to 372,000 lives having been saved. Conveniently the National Audit Office puts the cost of measures announced by the government by the end of March at £372bn. That would be, as readers will notice, £1 million per life saved. But again, taking QALYs lost per Covid death of seven years gives £143,000.  

This is a cost per year of life nearly five times more than the £30,000 the Government previously deemed an upper limit for what was reasonable and sustainable to spend on treatments such as that for children’s cancer medication. Is it the Government’s or Professor Ferguson’s position that protecting somebody from Covid is worth spending five times more than protecting someone from cancer or do they not understand the realities of the policies they are implementing?  

Accounting for the scarring effect on the economy and the compounding negative effect on future GDP and borrowing that the lockdowns will have had, alongside the reduction in quality of education and other irreversible effects, the true cost will certainly rise into the trillions over the years. Taking reasonable estimates for deaths and total cost over the long run, the cost per QALY saved by the lockdowns could quite conceivably be over 100 times that which the Government implements as an upper limit on all other maladies. 

Almost one year ago to this day on June 16th 2020, one of Ferguson’s fellow academics from Imperial, along with academics from the University of Manchester and the Salford Royal Hospital NHS Trust, published a paper which reached similar conclusions

The lowest estimate for lockdown costs incurred was 40% higher than highest benefits from avoiding the worst mortality case scenario at full life expectancy tariff and in more realistic estimations they were over five times higher. Future scenarios showed in the best case a QALY value of £220k (7xNICE guideline) and in the worst-case £3.7m (125xNICE guideline) was needed to justify the continuation of lockdown… This suggests that the costs of continuing severe restrictions are so great relative to likely benefits in lives saved that a rapid easing in restrictions is now warranted.

One year on and Boris Quisling de Pfeffel Chamberlain still has not smelt the coffee; he has prolonged these severe restrictions for another four weeks. The costs of lockdowns and restrictions have not changed over the last year; what has changed is an ever-growing list of examples of places that removed all restrictions and saw none of the doomsday scenarios, prophesied by SAGE and their international counterparts, play out. It is inconceivable that SAGE still believes its advice to have been a success or proportionate in any way and it is a damning indictment of the quality of British journalism and the media more generally that the Government and its advisers has not been interrogated on these obvious logical fallacies. 

Glen Bishop is a second year maths student at Nottingham University.