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May 31, 2020

What works

Opinion

May 31, 2020

There’s absolutely no empirical evidence that lockdowns actually work. Professor Michael Levitt, professor of structural biology at Stanford University and the winner of 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, says, “Lockdown is a huge mistake” adding that “damage done by lockdowns will exceed any saving of life by a huge factor.” According to Dennis Prager, one of America’s most respected commentators, “The worldwide lockdown may be the greatest mistake in history (Jewish Journal; May 5).” Das Bild, Germany’s biggest and Europe’s top-selling newspaper, wrote that lockdown was a ‘huge mistake’. Julian Nida-Rümelin, Germany’s former Minister of Culture, said statistics were being used to create fear.

Lyman Stone, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, has published his work on eleven countries including Spain, Italy, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. According to Lyman Stone, “The same lack of correlation shows up in virtually all eleven cases I could find with publicly available data on total deaths in areas that had Covid lockdowns.” There’s no empirical evidence that lockdown worked in Spain, Italy or France.

For the record, Sweden and the Netherlands did not go into lockdown. Lyman Stone’s conclusion: “Sweden is performing much better than the typical locked-down country. The Netherlands is having similar performance. This is all consistent with the idea that lockdowns are not a decisive factor in determining the scale of mortality a society experiences during an outbreak of Covid-19.”

In Pakistan’s case, here are the four facts that stand out. Fact 1: For the past five months coronavirus had a free run in Pakistan (we never had a real lockdown). Fact 2: Total deaths – after the virus had a free five-month run – stand at around 1,400. Fact 3: Last year, 36,000 Pakistanis died in traffic accidents. Fact 4: The WHO says that “Coronavirus may never go away” (lockdowns cannot last forever). Fact 5: Medical experts had overestimated mortality by a factor of 500 (mortality in Pakistan was projected at 691,000 versus actual mortality of around 1,400).

For the record, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea did not go into lockdown but “had the most successful control efforts.” Hong Kong implemented a strong programme of ‘centralized quarantine’ (which brought down the “reproductive rate of Covid-19 down to 0.3”). Sweden’s deaths per million from coronavirus is lower than that of many lockdown countries.

According to BullionVault, “Kentucky, a strict lockdown state, is five times more populated than South Dakota, yet it has some twenty times more coronavirus deaths. If lockdown and house arrest are the answer, shouldn’t those numbers be reversed, with South Dakota seeing mass death while Kentucky dodges the coronavirus bullet?”

We, in Pakistan, must scientifically determine what works and what does not work. Once again, there’s no empirical evidence that lockdowns work. According to Stone, “Adopt what works, not what doesn't.” According to Stone, “Masks work and should be mandatory, just they were during the 1918 influenza pandemic. School cancellations are hugely important, and reliably show up as a key part of reducing infection. Bans on large assemblies are an obvious policy with good support. Restriction on long-distance travel helps with good support. Restriction on long-distance travel helps reduce the occurrence of new outbreaks. Centralized quarantine helps actively reduce the spread of COVID-19 to a very low level.”

Lockdowns do not work. Four things that work are: masks, centralized quarantines, limits on assembly (no more than nine, for instance) and social distancing.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh