Canadian Expert’s Research Finds Lockdown Harms Are 10 Times Greater Than Benefits
By Anthony Furey
January 9, 2021
Dr. Ari Joffe is a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at University of Alberta. He has written a paper titled COVID-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink that finds the harms of lockdowns are 10 times greater than their benefits. The below Q&A is an exchange between Joffe and Anthony Furey.
Anthony Furey: You were a strong proponent of lockdowns initially but have since changed your mind. Why is that?
Dr. Ari Joffe: There are a few reasons why I supported lockdowns at first.
First, initial data falsely suggested that the infection fatality rate was up to 2-3%, that over 80% of the population would be infected, and modelling suggested repeated lockdowns would be necessary. But emerging data showed that the median infection fatality rate is 0.23%, that the median infection fatality rate in people under 70 years old is 0.05%, and that the high-risk group is older people especially those with severe co-morbidities. In addition, it is likely that in most situations only 20-40% of the population would be infected before ongoing transmission is limited (i.e., herd-immunity).
Second, I am an infectious diseases and critical care physician, and am not trained to make public policy decisions. I was only considering the direct effects of COVID-19 and my knowledge of how to prevent these direct effects. I was not considering the immense effects of the response to COVID-19 (that is, lockdowns) on public health and wellbeing.
Emerging data has shown a staggering amount of so-called “collateral damage” due to the lockdowns. This can be predicted to adversely affect many millions of people globally with food insecurity [82-132 million more people], severe poverty [70 million more people], maternal and under age-5 mortality from interrupted healthcare [1.7 million more people], infectious diseases deaths from interrupted services [millions of people with Tuberculosis, Malaria, and HIV], school closures for children [affecting children’s future earning potential and lifespan], interrupted vaccination campaigns for millions of children, and intimate partner violence for millions of women. In high-income countries adverse effects also occur from delayed and interrupted healthcare, unemployment, loneliness, deteriorating mental health, increased opioid crisis deaths, and more.
Third, a formal cost-benefit analysis of different responses to the pandemic was not done by government or public health experts. Initially, I simply assumed that lockdowns to suppress the pandemic were the best approach. But policy decisions on public health should require a cost-benefit analysis. Since lockdowns are a public health intervention, aiming to improve the population wellbeing, we must consider both benefits of lockdowns, and costs of lockdowns on the population wellbeing. Once I became more informed, I realized that lockdowns cause far more harm than they prevent.
Anthony Furey: There has never been a full cost-benefit analysis of lockdowns done in Canada. What did you find when you did yours?
Dr. Ari Joffe: First, some background into the cost-benefit analysis. I discovered information I was not aware of before. First, framing decisions as between saving lives versus saving the economy is a false dichotomy. There is a strong long-run relationship between economic recession and public health. This makes sense, as government spending on things like healthcare, education, roads, sanitation, housing, nutrition, vaccines, safety, social security nets, clean energy, and other services determines the population well-being and life-expectancy. If the government is forced to spend less on these social determinants of health, there will be “statistical lives” lost, that is, people will die in the years to come. Second, I had underestimated the effects of loneliness and unemployment on public health. It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan, and chronic diseases. Third, in making policy decisions there are trade-offs to consider, costs and benefits, and we have to choose between options that each have tragic outcomes in order to advocate for the least people to die as possible.
In the cost-benefit analysis I consider the benefits of lockdowns in preventing deaths from COVID-19, and the costs of lockdowns in terms of the effects of the recession, loneliness, and unemployment on population wellbeing and mortality. I did not consider all of the other so-called “collateral damage” of lockdowns mentioned above. It turned out that the costs of lockdowns are at least 10 times higher than the benefits. That is, lockdowns cause far more harm to population wellbeing than COVID-19 can. It is important to note that I support a focused protection approach, where we aim to protect those truly at high-risk of COVID-19 mortality, including older people, especially those with severe co-morbidities and those in nursing homes and hospitals.
Anthony Furey: You studied the role modelling played in shaping public opinion. Can you break that down for us?
Dr. Ari Joffe: I think that the initial modelling and forecasting were inaccurate. This led to a contagion of fear and policies across the world. Popular media focused on absolute numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths independent of context. There has been a sheer one-sided focus on preventing infection numbers. The economist Paul Frijters wrote that it was “all about seeming to reduce risks of infection and deaths from this one particular disease, to the exclusion of all other health risks or other life concerns.” Fear and anxiety spread, and we elevated COVID-19 above everything else that could possibly matter. Our cognitive biases prevented us from making optimal policy: we ignored hidden ‘statistical deaths’ reported at the population level, we preferred immediate benefits to even larger benefits in the future, we disregarded evidence that disproved our favorite theory, and escalated our commitment in the set course of action.
I found out that in Canada in 2018 there were over 23,000 deaths per month and over 775 deaths per day. In the world in 2019 there were over 58 million deaths and about 160,000 deaths per day. This means that on November 21 this year, COVID-19 accounted for 5.23% of deaths in Canada (2.42% in Alberta), and 3.06% of global deaths. Each day in non-pandemic years over 21,000 people die from tobacco use, 3,600 from pneumonia and diarrhea in children under 5-years-old, and 4,110 from Tuberculosis. We need to consider the tragic COVID-19 numbers in context.
I believe that we need to take an “effortful pause” and reconsider the information available to us. We need to calibrate our response to the true risk, make rational cost-benefit analyses of the trade-offs, and end the lockdown groupthink.
Anthony Furey: Canada has already been going down the lockdown path for many months. What should be done now? How do we change course?
Dr. Ari Joffe: As above, I believe that we need to take an “effortful pause” and reconsider the information available to us. We need to calibrate our response to the true risk, make rational cost-benefit analyses of the trade-offs, and end the lockdown groupthink. Some considerations I have suggested elsewhere include the following:
• We need to better educate ourselves on the risks and trade-offs involved, and alleviate unreasonable fear with accurate information. We need to focus on cost-benefit analysis — repeated or prolonged lockdowns cannot be based on COVID-19 numbers alone.
• We should focus on protecting people at high risk: people hospitalized or in nursing homes (e.g., universal masking in hospitals reduced transmission markedly), in crowded conditions (e.g., homeless shelters, prisons, large gatherings), and 70 years and older (especially with severe comorbidities) — don’t lock down everyone, regardless of their individual risk.
• We need to keep schools open because children have very low morbidity and mortality from COVID-19, and (especially those 10 years and younger) are less likely to be infected by, and have a low likelihood to be the source of transmission of, SARS-CoV-2.
• We should increase healthcare surge capacity if forecasting, accurately calibrated repeatedly to real-time data (up to now, forecasting, even short-term, has repeatedly failed), suggests it is needed. With universal masking in hospitals, asymptomatic health care workers should be allowed to continue to work, even if infected, thus preserving the healthcare workforce.
The UGLY Truth About The Covid-19 Lockdowns – Nick Hudson, Co-Founder Of PANDA
Our Politicians Have Failed Us: The Devastating Effects Of The Long-Term Lockdown (Brian Rose – 01/14/21)
Reiner Fuellmich: Suing The Powers That Be For “Crimes Against Humanity”
“The lockdowns are the single worst public health mistake in the last 100 years. We will be counting the catastrophic health and psychological harms, imposed on nearly every poor person on the face of the earth, for a generation.”
— Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University Medical School (Source: Newsweek)
“The coronavirus pandemic has been a great tragedy, there can be no doubt about that. But it has also exposed profound issues in America that now threaten the very principles of freedom and order that we Americans often take for granted.
“First, I have been shocked at the enormous power of the government, to unilaterally decree, to simply close businesses and schools by edict, restrict personal movement, mandate behavior, and eliminate our most basic freedoms, without any end and little accountability.
“Second, I remain surprised at the acceptance by the American people of draconian rules, restrictions, and unprecedented mandates, even those that are arbitrary, destructive, and wholly unscientific.
“This crisis has also exposed what we all have known existed, but we have tolerated for years: the overt bias of the media, the lack of diverse viewpoints on campuses, the absence of neutrality in big tech controlling social media, and now more visibly than ever, the intrusion of politics into science. Ultimately, the freedom to seek and state the truth is at risk here in the United States.”
— Scott W. Atlas, MD, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution (Source: The Last Word)
“. . . lockdown policies have been extraordinarily harmful. The harms to children of closing in-person schooling are dramatic, including poor learning, increased school dropouts, and social isolation, most of which are far worse for lower income groups.
“A recent study confirms that up to 78% of cancers were never detected due to missed screening over three months. If one extrapolates to the entire country, up to a million new cases or more over nine months will have gone undetected. That health disaster adds to missed critical surgeries, chemotherapy, organ transplants, presentations of pediatric illnesses, heart attack and stroke patients too afraid to call emergency services, and others, all well documented.
“Beyond hospital care, CDC reported four-fold increases in depression, three-fold increases in anxiety symptoms, and a doubling of suicidal ideation, particularly among young adults — college age — after the first few months of lockdowns, echoing the AMA reports of drug overdoses and suicides. An explosion of insurance claims for these psychological harms in children just verified this, doubling nationally since last year; and in the strictly locked down Northeast, there was a more than 300% increase of teenagers visiting doctors for self-harm.
“Domestic abuse and child abuse have been skyrocketing due to the isolation and specifically to the loss of jobs, particularly in the strictest lockdowns. Given that many in-person schools have been closed, hundreds of thousands of abuse cases are never reported, since schools are the number one agency where abuse is noticed. Finally, the unemployment ‘shock’ from lockdowns, according to a recent NBER study, translates into what they called a ‘staggering’ 890,000 additional U.S. deaths over the next 15 years from the lockdowns, disproportionately affecting minorities and women.
“We know we have not yet seen the full extent of the damage from lockdowns, because it will last for years, even decades. Perhaps that is why lockdowns were not recommended in previous pandemic analyses, even for infections with far higher lethality . . . To determine the best path forward necessarily means admitting that social lockdowns and significant restrictions on individuals are deadly and extraordinarily harmful, especially on the working class, minorities, and the poor.”
— Scott W. Atlas, MD, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution (Source: The Last Word)
“By the time his landlord found him, the older man must have been on the floor of his apartment for days. He was too delirious to tell us what had happened, but his labs and exam told the story for him. He was living alone, dehydrated and malnourished, his muscles wasted, bones protruding. There was no infection to explain his decline. He had not suffered a stroke or a seizure. His was a story of isolation, of what can happen to a person who is deprived of human contact. Our patient had successfully avoided the coronavirus, but he was a casualty of the pandemic all the same.
“We have spent the past year reacting to crisis after crisis, planning for the next wave and tallying the cost of this virus in body count. Here in the hospital, where we meet patients in extremis, it often feels as though the alarms are so loud that it is impossible to hear anything else. But now, as the number of new coronavirus cases mercifully falls throughout the country, a quieter suffering demands our attention. Though we have always known that the cost of this pandemic would be greater than the number of the dead, we are only beginning to understand its true magnitude. In what might be a final wave of this pandemic, we find ourselves treating patients who have avoided the virus only to succumb to its many unintended consequences — addiction, untreated disease and despair.”
— Daniela Lamas, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Brigham & Women’s Hospital (Source: We Focused On Covid. Now Our Other Patients Are Suffering.)
“It’s so obvious that it should not have to be said but by August, open states had far better economic outcomes than closed states. It’s also why we are seeing a huge migration from closed states to open states.
“The pattern here is far too pronounced to avoid causal inference. Shutting things down causes things to shut down. As for how that affected disease outcomes, AIER (American Institute Of Economic Research) has documented fully 31 studies showing that nothing governments did to control this virus had any measurable impact.
“Nor are lockdowns a necessary or inevitable means reducing coronavirus deaths. There is now incontrovertible evidence demonstrating that states and nations that locked down fared no better in terms of reducing coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, than those that did not impose government mandated shutdowns.
“And yet we cannot even speak honestly about the astronomical costs of lockdowns until our mainstream media outlets at least begin to speak the word. They need to acknowledge the existence of the most devastating policy decision in many lifetimes, a use of government power we never imagined possible and one with catastrophic effects.
“Could it be that they do not want to acknowledge that lockdowns failed because so many pushed them for a large part of 2020 and now want to avoid responsibility? Admitting error is hard. Or maybe there is an easier answer. Recognizing and naming the lockdowns draws attention to a terrible reality: all of this was preventable. It’s almost too difficult to accept.
“And with that comes an unwillingness to recognize that there is a huge revolt against lockdowns brewing in this country. It’s not crazy people who resent having been stripped of their rights. It’s regular people coast to coast. The trust in public health authorities is collapsing minute by minute. It can be seen in the reluctance of large swaths of the population to take the vaccine.
“Regardless, journalists for mainstream outlets cannot make that reality disappear by continuing to pretend — as they have for most of the last 10 months — that the lockdowns never happened. Americans are realizing that lockdowns were pointless, unnecessary, and destructive. Those who hold positions of authority in politics in the media, and who have engaged in lockdown denialism for the past 12 months will soon face a reckoning.”
— Jeffrey A. Tucker (Source: The Entrenchment of Lockdown Denialism)
“If we do not get up off our knees and stop worshiping scientists and doctors who have too little knowledge and have been given too much power, tomorrow we will not be able to get on a bus, train or plane; enter a store or sports arena; obtain a driver’s license or passport, file our taxes or function in society without getting every vaccine that industry creates and the government orders us to get…”
— Barbara Loe Fisher, President & Co-Founder of National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC)
• ‘It Is Essentially Akin To Solitary Confinement’: UofG Viral Immunologist Frustrated By Child Covid-19 Quarantine Messaging (Guelph Mercury Tribune – 03/30/21)
• ‘Catastrophic Consequences For People’s Lives’: Debt Crisis Looming For Developing World Due To Covid Response, UN Chief Warns (RT – 03/29/21)
• Scared To Death? Doctor Says Patients With Serious Diseases Are Dying From Fear Of COVID-19 (StudyFinds – 03/23/21)
• Almost Half Of Young Adults At Clinical Risk Of Mental Health Disorders In ‘Profound Crisis’, Study Shows (The Telegraph – 03/15/21)
• The Entrenchment Of Lockdown Denialism (American Institute Of Economic Research – 03/09/21)
• We Focused On Covid. Now Our Other Patients Are Suffering. (Washington Post – 03/08/21)
• Experts Call Peel Guidelines To Place Children In Solitary Quarantine ‘Cruel Punishment’ (Toronto Sun – 02/27/21)
• Every Single Prosecution Under Government’s Coronavirus Act Has Been Overturned (Yahoo News – 02/24/21)
• High School Mercilessly Mocked For Placing Band Students In Tents So They Can Practice Amid Pandemic (The Blaze – 02/26/21)
• COVID Lockdowns May Have No Clear Benefit vs Other Voluntary Measures, International Study Shows (Newsweek – 01/14/21)
• 3 Studies That Show Lockdowns Are Ineffective At Slowing COVID-19 (Foundation For Economic Education – 01/09/21)
• Lockdown Will Claim The Equivalent Of 560,000 Lives Because Of The Health Impact Of The ‘Deep And Prolonged Recession It Will Cause’, Expert Warns (Daily Mail – 11/07/20)
• Sunfellow COVID-19 Resource Page