Healthy Lifestyle

New Research Suggests Pandemic Lockdowns Caused Extensive Damage, Prompting Calls for Policy Reevaluation

In groundbreaking research encompassing over 600 publications, Dr Kevin Bardosh, an applied medical anthropologist from the University of Washington, has uncovered that pandemic lockdowns likely resulted in “more harm than benefit,” leaving behind substantial and far-reaching collateral damage that will reverberate for years to come. The repercussions include millions of non-Covid excess deaths, an increase in child abuse and domestic violence, and trillions of dollars in economic losses.

In response to Dr Bardosh’s paper, Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious disease expert from the Australian National University, took to Twitter to express his agreement, stating, “It looks like many original predictions of adverse effects are broadly supported by research data.”

Summarizing his findings, Dr Bardosh acknowledged that Covid-19 has been the most disruptive global crisis since World War II, and the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) employed, including lockdowns, represent a momentous set of policies in modern public health history. He noted that early on, concerns were voiced regarding the potential for widespread social harm caused by NPIs, particularly for vulnerable and economically disadvantaged populations. Now, with the benefit of hindsight and extensive research evidence, these concerns can be evaluated.

The preprint paper, funded by UK charity Collateral Global, revealed that the collateral damage resulting from the pandemic response has been significant, diverse, and will have lasting negative consequences for hundreds of millions of people in the years ahead. The scientific literature has now substantiated previously anticipated adverse effects, such as a rise in non-Covid excess mortality, deterioration of mental health, increased incidents of child abuse and domestic violence, exacerbation of global inequality, food insecurity, disrupted education opportunities, unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, social polarization, escalating debt, democratic regression, and declining human rights.

The paper emphasized that young people, individuals, and countries with lower socio-economic status, women, and those with pre-existing vulnerabilities were hit the hardest by these adverse consequences.

The research concluded that the dominant mental model of the pandemic response, which favored Covid policies, must be challenged. It is increasingly likely that many of these policies caused more harm than benefit. However, further research is necessary to address knowledge gaps and explore policy trade-offs, especially at the country level.

National lockdowns were implemented in approximately 150 countries starting in March and April 2020, followed by the adoption of various containment measures, such as school and workplace closures, limitations on gathering sizes, travel restrictions, economic stimulus packages, including income support, and health policies like mask mandates, testing, and vaccination. Some of these policies persisted until 2022 and even 2023.

The paper highlighted that a vigorous debate, both public and scientific, has ensued regarding these disease control policies. It also noted a tendency within the public health community to be overly optimistic about the benefits of interventions while downplaying or overlooking their associated harm.

The analysis encompassed societal harms across ten categories, including health, economy, income, education, food security, lifestyle, relationships, community, environment, and governance.

Key findings included 14-18 million excess deaths, with 5-6 million attributed to Covid, tens of millions of new mental health disorders, particularly among young people, long-term economic and business damage resulting in soaring government and private debt, and a staggering $6 trillion lost income for workers worldwide.

Studies conducted in North America indicated that the mortality increases were primarily observed in conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, drug overdoses, homicides, Alzheimer’s, and motor vehicle fatalities. Non-Covid excess mortality is predicted to remain elevated in the coming years, including anticipated increases in cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The paper highlighted how pandemic rules contributed to the rise of stigma, fueled by media narratives, heightened fear, and social conformity to the rules. Media representations in Canada and the UK portrayed a strong moralizing discourse that blamed and shamed specific groups while dividing the population into “the virtuous” rule followers and the “deviants” who questioned or criticized the NPI rules. This created further societal division.

The pandemic also led to increased media consumption while challenging journalistic standards and threatening media freedom. Global news consumption, particularly through TV news, social media, and internet news, witnessed a significant rise in 2020. However, this increase in media use was associated with a decline in mental health. The reporting on the crisis was predominantly influenced by political sources, highlighting the central role of the state and biomedical experts in shaping pandemic news, with limited critical scrutiny of policy decisions.

The paper concluded that the Covid pandemic offers numerous lessons to be learned. It emphasized the need for a greater awareness of the complexity and potential harms associated with large-scale policy experiments in social distancing and government management of social life. This awareness should foster a higher level of healthy skepticism regarding simplistic narratives and technocratic governance that present unrealistic goals as urgent moral imperatives.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) recently downgraded the Covid pandemic from a global health emergency, warning about the possibility of a future, even deadlier pandemic referred to as “Disease X,” the lessons learned from the current crisis should inform planning and response for future global health emergencies.

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