Dr Ari Joffe said inaccuracies in initial modelling and forecasting led to a contagion of fear and policies across the world
A recent study by a Canadian health expert now suggests that lockdowns had caused harm ten times more than its benefits.
In his paper “Covid-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink that finds the harms of lockdowns are 10 times greater than their benefits,” Dr Ari Joffe, a clinical professor in the Pediatrics Department at University of Alberta, said emerging data has shown a staggering amount of so-called “collateral damage” caused by lockdowns.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Dr Joffe said initial data falsely suggested that the infection fatality rate was up to 2-3% in Canada, 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, such as herd-immunity,” he told the Canadian English-language tabloid.
Dr Joffe, also a specialist in paediatric infectious diseases at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, also told the tabloid that the immense effects of the response to Covid-19, such as lockdowns, on public health and wellbeing can be predicted to adversely affect many millions of people globally with food insecurity adding 82 million to 132 million more people, severe poverty among 70 million more people, maternal and under age-5 mortality from interrupted healthcare to 1.7 million more people, infectious diseases deaths from interrupted services among 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,” he added.
The clinical professor further added that a formal cost-benefit analysis of different responses to the pandemic was not done by governments 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.”
He also added that in the cost-benefit analysis, his research considers 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.
“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,” he said in the interview.
“It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan, and chronic diseases.”
He said inaccuracies in initial modelling and forecasting 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.”
Mentioning that the world in 2019 saw about 160,000 deaths per day, he said Covid-19 accounted for 5.23% of deaths in Canada and 3.06% of global deaths as of November 21, 2020.
However, over 21,000 people die from tobacco use, 3,600 from pneumonia and diarrhoea in children under 5-years-old, and 4,110 from tuberculosis each day in non-pandemic years.
“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,” he said.
Advising the need to better educate ourselves on the risks and trade-offs involved, and alleviate unreasonable fear with accurate information, Dr Joffe also said focus needs to put on cost-benefit analysis as 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 (universal masking in hospitals reduced transmission markedly), in crowded conditions (homeless shelters, prisons, large gatherings), and 70 years and older (especially with severe comorbidities) – don’t lock down everyone, regardless of their individual risk.”
He also advised that schools need to be kept 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.
At the same time, his research also concluded that healthcare surge capacity should be increased if forecasting, accurately calibrated repeatedly to real-time data 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,” he said in the interview.