What are the harms of lockdown?

Lockdown harms

You would think that governments always do a cost-benefit analysis before embarking on a certain course of action, especially if it is likely to have significant effects on many different aspects of society. The global lockdowns in response to the covid pandemic probably constitute the largest, most extreme measures taken by western governments since the second world war. So, you would think a careful cost-benefit analysis would have been done before the decision was made to lock down.

Apparently, if you thought that, you would be wrong. As far as I am aware, not a single government anywhere has presented a carefully deliberated cost-benefit analysis, in which they look at all aspects, and then explain why they think lockdown is the right decision, in spite of all the likely harms.

Since no government has bothered to do this (at least publicly), we’re going to help out. This article will by no means be exhaustive, since the harms are innumerable, affecting every aspect of life. Instead, I’m going to focus on two things that I think are representative of wider harms, cardiovascular health and children’s health.

As I mentioned in a previous article, during the covid peak in spring in Stockholm, hospital admissions due to heart attacks were down 40% . Presumably the number of people having heart attacks didn’t decrease by 40%, so most likely a lot of people were having heart attacks but choosing to stay home for fear of catching covid. It seems similar patterns have been seen around the world. This is a big problem, for two reasons. Firstly, the risk of sudden cardiac death immediately after a heart attack is big. Secondly, if you have a heart attack and don’t get emergent treatment, you are at much bigger risk of permanent damage to your heart, which can result in chronic heart failure.

A study was published in Heart in September that sought to understand what the effects of the first lockdown were on cardiovascular mortality in the UK. The researchers looked at official mortality data for the first UK lockdown (March to June), and compared it with the average for the same time period during the preceding six years. What did they find?

There was an 8% increase in cardiovascular mortality during the lockdown, compared with what would normally be expected for the time period. At the same time, the proportion of cardiovascular deaths happening in hospitals decreased from 63% to 53%, while the proportion happening out of hospital (in private homes or care homes) increased from 37% to 47% .

What does this tell us?

Well, the data is observational, so it’s hard to draw causal conclusions, but we can make some reasonable guesses. The authors of the article think it is likely that fear of covid caused people to seek help later than they normally would have. Therefore, more people died outside of hospital, and more people died overall, because they didn’t get the help they needed for their cardiovascular emergency. I think that is a very reasonable conclusion. And it is supported by one additional data point, which is that a larger share of the people who died in hospital after having a heart attack died of cardiogenic shock or ventricular arrythmia – complications that are more often seen when people seek treatment late.

Another study was published in June in Neurological Sciences. The purpose of the study was to see what impact lockdown measures had on patients with stroke. The study was carried out in one hospital in Italy. All journal data from patients entering the hospital from March 11th and one month forward (the first month of national lockdown in Italy) were gathered. The data were then compared with journal data for the same time period in 2019. In total, 52 people came in to the hospital with strokes during the one month period in 2020, compared with 41 in 2019.

Before we get in to the results, I should mention that a stroke is a time critical emergency, just like a heart attack. A common saying, that I’m sure many people will have heard before, is “time is brain”. In other words, every extra hour of delay before getting treatment increases the risk of a bad outcome.

In 2019, the average time from beginning of symptoms to arrival in the hospital was 161 minutes. In 2020, the average time had more than doubled, to 387 minutes.

One treatment that is used for strokes is thrombolysis, where a drug that breaks up blood clots is infused in to the blood stream. But thrombolysis is a time critical treatment – studies have shown no benefit when it is given more than 4,5 hours after the beginning of symptoms, so patients who arrive later are not eligible for this treatment. The delay in arrival in the hospital meant that there was a significant reduction in the proportion of patients who received thrombolysis, from 32% to 14% .

Now, this was a small study, but the doubling in time to arrival at the hospital was highly statistically significant, and unlikely to have been due to chance. As with the previous study, the authors suggest that the delay in seeking help was due to fear of covid.

So, we have two studies which point in the same direction, that people have been slower to seek help for medical emergencies due to an overblown fear of covid. This delay has likely resulted in a significant number of deaths. Now, of course, deaths due to delays in seeking treatment aren’t directly due to lockdown. Rather, they are due to government and media fear mongering. But that fear mongering has been, and continues to be, knowingly used as a tool to get people to accept tough restrictions.

In an earlier article, I mentioned that childhood vaccination programs in many developing countries had been put on hold due to the global obsession with covid, and that this will likely result in many more years of life lost than are lost directly due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But we don’t need to go to developing countries to see children being harmed by the disproportionate response to covid.

An article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in November, that sought to calculate the cost, in terms of life years lost, of taking children out of school. Now, this article was based on modeling, which I’m generally skeptical of, because you can get pretty much whatever outputs you want, depending on what inputs you choose and what assumptions you make in the model.

However, the study sought to do something which has largely been ignored in the public debate around school closures, which is to make the harms of school closures concrete in a way that would allow them to be compared to the more direct and obvious harms of SARS-CoV-2. In other words, they sought to create a situation where you’re comparing apples with apples. Therefore I think it’s worth talking about.

So, what they did was model to what extent being taken out of school for a period of time affects longer term educational attainment. The assumptions that were fed in to the model came from an earlier analysis of a teacher’s strike in parts of Argentina, which had resulted in significantly lowered long term educational attainment for children in regions where the strike resulted in prolonged absences from school.

The outputs of these calculations were then fed in to a second model that used data on how educational attainment affects longevity, in order to determine the effect of school closures on long term mortality for the affected children.

Schools across the US were shut for a median of 54 days during the first covid wave. Based on their modeling, the authors estimate that this 54 day hiatus will result in affected boys living four months shorter lives, on average, than they otherwise would have, and affected girls living two and a half months shorter lives than they otherwise would have.

Overall, 24 million primary school children across the US were affected by the school closures. That would mean about 6 million years of life lost just due to the school closures in spring. At this point in time, 300,000 people have died in the US from covid. If we assume around 7 years of life are lost per person dying of covid (probably generous, as I have discussed in a previous article), that would mean around two million years have so far been lost directly to covid in the US. So by that estimate, the two month school hiatus in spring will result in three times as many years of life lost as have so far been lost directly to the virus.

Like I said, this is a modeling study, so the specific inputs used and numbers arrived at can be criticized in plenty of different ways, but the overall point that is made is sound. Taking children out of school is harmful to them, both over the short term and the long term, and that should be factored in to any decision to keep children out of school “for the greater good”. Just because harms are invisible over the short term doesn’t mean they’re not real.

So, the global covid hysteria has resulted in suspension of childhood vaccine programs, and in school closures, both of which will likely result in many more years of life lost than will ever be lost to the virus directly. Can the situation for children get any worse?

Apparently, yes it can. An article was published in the British Medical Journal in July, written by a group of doctors working at the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London. The authors noted that the incidence of abusive head trauma in children arriving at their hospital had increased by 1,500% in the first month of lockdown (23rd March to 23rd April), when compared with the same period in preceding years. In other words, there was a 15-fold increase in children getting beaten so badly by their caregivers that they ended up in hospital with severe head trauma.

The authors report that all the children lived in poorer neighborhoods, and 70% had parents with known underlying vulnerabilities (criminal records, mental health issues, or serious financial distress). Obviously, most people won’t start physically abusing their children just because they’re stuck at home with them all day for months on end, but for children that are already at risk, the risk increases substantially.

So, what can we conclude from all this? Very simply, lockdown and the fear-mongering that goes with it almost certainly kills many more people than it saves, and it certainly results in many more years of life lost.

You might also enjoy my article about whether lockdown prevents covid deaths or my article about how many years of life are lost, on average, when someone dies of covid.

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41 thoughts on “What are the harms of lockdown?”

  1. Thank you, Dr. Rushworth. We need more analyses like this. Colossal stupidity on the part of our political leaders.

  2. I am equally skeptical of modeling and follow your reasoning regarding lives lost because of schools closing. However you compare to the actual lives lost due to Covid-19. Critics might point out that without schools closing that number would have been manifold the one that we have now, so your comparison would not hold.

  3. German pediatrician Eugen Janzen has just released a new video with his findings about the impact of wearing masks on children.
    Apparently, the stress hormone concentration of adrenaline and neuradrenalline rises hugely after a while due to higher CO2 levels and more frequent or deeper breathing.
    Scandalously, this consequence was also known to the German Bundesumweltamt since 2008.
    He is now filing charges for crimes against humanity in The Hagze against those mandating this child abuse.

  4. I am already converted to decry the idiocy of our elected representatives who have turned despot. It is really challenging to get people to switch off mainstream media and look for other POV. Example: why won’t you (asked of me) take the vaccine? I gave 3 reasons the one that really shocked them” The UK Government has indemnified pharmaceutical companies from being sued as a result of their vaccine causing a vaccine injury. Oh, I did not know that! So you have a mortgage and family to support, you suffer a vaccine injury and can no longer work. Hope you can survive welfare.

  5. Thank you for writing this article Dr. Rushworth. Reading it makes me think about the huge divide between those with a lot, and those without. I can see it because I’ve experienced both, but many of my friends cannot. They say we should do everything we can to protect others–lock everything down every time people get sick, wear masks, etc– just to be “nice”, but they cannot see the harm it is doing to society (all of the points you made in your article). Thank you for pulling all this information together and sharing with the world.

  6. It is what authorities claim, though. And numbers rise and fall respectively after opening and closing schools. Mind you, I am not in favour of closing schools at all. I am just trying to see this from all angles.

  7. Dr. Rushworth– You wrote another great article regarding the Danish study and mask usage. That got buried and so will this article. Why? It doesn’t fit the globalist narrative, therefore must be buried. After all–if one is to control the message–then one must control the messenger…

    Hopefully, your message gets through. I’ve forwarded them to a wide variety of those I know. It’s amazing though, at the resistance of many to even consider something outside the ‘approved’ narrative…

  8. Christen,
    Recommended readings: (1) “COVID-19 in children and the role of school settings in COVID-19 transmission [ECDC, Technical report, 6 Aug 2020] and (2) What we know about COVID-19 transmission in schools [WHO Coronavirus Update 39].
    Politicians shouldn’t ignore this.

  9. Tom Woods (https://tomwoods.com) may be a raving libertarian with whom I agree on very little, but he carries on a vigorous campaign against lockdowns, particularly in the U.S. He has put out a PDF document listing references to sources one should consider in arguing the case. It’s called “Wrong About the Lockdown”. I can’t find it any more on his site, and he may have offered it free for a limited time when I downloaded it. If anyone is interested, I can either search harder on his site(s), or send a copy of my copy.

  10. Thanks, and I agree that lockdowns are more harmful than not but I have two questions about this.
    First, the modelling exercises you posted are completely useless, ( and furthermore entering results of one model into another model just compounds the uselessness of the result). So, although I agree with the sentiment, we need more hard and reliable data against the lockdowns than this.
    Second, our news media are reporting that the new wave in Sweden has put the ICU’s and hospitals at breaking point pressure.
    Swedish doctors resigning etc etc.
    I’m skeptical.
    Can you tell us is this true?

    1. Hi Samuel,
      Well, I can’t answer for the whole country, but that’s not the situation where I work. Here in Stockholm the number of people being treated for covid in hospitals has been stable at around 700 these last two weeks (the Stockholm hospital system has almost 4,000 beds, so 700 is less than 20% of total capacity). The number being treated in ICU in Sweden has also been stable these last few weeks, at a level around half the level in spring.

      Overall, the number of people being treated for covid in hospitals is a little higher than in spring, which is due to the fact that other parts of Sweden, that were barely touched by covid in spring, have now been hit harder. My feeling (and that of colleagues I’ve spoken to) is however that the people we’re admitting for covid now are less sick than the people we were admitting in spring – in other words, the fact that we never ended up having to treat as many people in spring as was feared means that we’re now being more generous with who we admit). That probably explains why the hospitalization to death ratio seems to be much lower now than it was in spring.

    1. ‘with’ COVID. you cannot simply claim causation between sarsCOV2 and those 300,000 fatalities. Not while we still have no evidence of causation and when the procedures for establishing who has covid19 and not are so loose and fast.

  11. Pardon my earlier premature push of the “post comment” button.
    “At this point in time, 300,000 people have died in the US from covid.”
    Isn’t this the number of people who have died “with” covid, not necessarily “from” covid. I suspect that many thousands of people have died with a common cold, but we would never say that all of these people died from the cold. Why do we assume with covid that all who died “with” also died “from”? But this only strengthens the conclusion of your analysis that the cost of lockdown far exceeds any benefit. Thanks for all you are doing with these blog posts.

  12. I thought I share those link and my personal experience.

    Very recent US FLCCC Alliance press conference on ivermectin-based Covid prophylaxis and early treatment by Drs Paul Marik, Pierre Kory and Joe Varon.

    Dr Pierre Kory, president of the US Frontline Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC), has testified to the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security about early outpatient treatment in general and the importance of Ivermectin in particular. Dr Kory has also addressed the very unfortunate politicization of this topic, and the disappointing inertia of many health authorities.

    I went to see my MD and asked whether doctors have requests for prescribing Ivermectin. He said that he had a number of requests but he had to turn them all down because the practice received a letter from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians asking doctors not to prescribe Ivermectin and warning that those who prescribe it will be liable for any side effects the drug has caused.

  13. Dear Dr. Rushworth,

    our (Germanys) governments main argument for any measure including “lockdown” is that we need to limit the number of intense care patients. Omitting that they did not do anything to increase intense care capacity, is there any knowledge about efficiency of intense care in severe covid-19 cases?
    In other words, does intense care significantly reduce mortality or does it only prolong the process?
    Especially when including the risk of infecting other high risk patients being in hospital for other reasons.

    1. Hi,
      One thing we know now, that we didn’t in spring, is that most people with more severe will get through with just supplemental oxygen. That is why we’ve gone from intubating as early as possible in spring to intubating as late as possible now. For the people for whom supplemental oxygen isn’t enough, in other words, who are desaturating severely in spite of the highest possible doses of oxygen with BiPAP or CPAP (devices that actively push that air in to your lungs), intensive care is the only thing that has a chance of saving the person. Most of the people who go in to intensive care currently survive, which suggests that it does work, since we’re currently only putting people in intensive care if they’re so sick that they’re unlikely to make it otherwise.

  14. @Volvimus: due to 40 years of disinvestment in healthcare, running hospitals as if they were car factories, our healthcare system is not capable of handling the number of IC patients – that’s the real problem.

  15. The problem with arguments about “total life years” is that people die individually, not collectively.
    If we attribute the highest value to “total life years”, then medical euthanasia is perfectly acceptable. If we only get healthy and vibrant people, life expectancy will increase.

  16. Interesting article, as always. A few thoughts on the notion of cost-benefit in this arena:
    1) should the comparison that needs to be made the total cost and benefit of the two paths — or in this case what happened versus the counter-factual (which is, of course, impossible to know fully)? On the cost side of the ledger would be all of the economic, health, and societal costs, over all time, discounted back to the present using an appropriate discount rate. By the way, that discount rate would probably rule the analysis, given the long-term nature of the impacts (particularly costs). On the benefit side, this would be the avoided cases: everyone continues to point to 300,000 deaths as if that were somehow the cost or the benefit. It is tangible and trackable, but that is not germaine, it seems to me. In addition, we would need to add to the years saved the total of the ancillary benefits of the lockdown / avoided costs of having no lockdowns; perhaps they are small, but certianly there are some (fewer traffic accidents, etc.).

  17. 2) a perfect analysis would also have a time element, which I believe is crucial because both the costs and the benefits are dynamic. The benefits of shut-downs, I would argue, suffer from decreasing marginal benefit, whereas the costs clearly exhibit increasing marginal impact. So the net benefit changes dramatically: the two curves cross at some point. A very short lockdown, given uncertainty and what appeared to be a horrific situation in Italy, might have made sense. Or perhaps not. But it seems clear to me that the damage mounted rapidly, while new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths plummeted. Restrictions continued long after teh curve had been flattened. Right now, a look at the daily case curve in the US clearly suggets that a breakover point to this wave is being reached, with a top between 250k and 300k new cases (assuming fairly static testing). But I never hear that story.

    1. Good point. I agree, a short lockdown in spring to get on top of the situation, when it was thought the mortality rate might really be 4%, made sense. As the data has come in on the ineffectiveness and harms of lockdown, and on the much lower mortality rate of the virus, it has made less and less sense.

  18. Anyway, thanks for mentioning cost benefit analysis. Honestly, I do not envy any politician this year. A proper analysis would have taken too long, and decisions had to be made. But I am sad that this has cost so much to so many of the poor — not the rich US and Europe, but the truly poor. We have had 35 years of real progres to bring people out of deep poverty, and I cannot help but think that we will put a few hundred million (TOTAL guess) right back there due to the economic damage of the lockdowns.

  19. Hi Dr. Rushworth,
    I’m hearing a lot about how in Canada and the US, almost all deaths are being put down as Covid deaths, even when there has not been any test for Covid done. Do you think this is being done in Sweden and throughout Europe as well?

  20. Do you have a reliable source for that claim, Louise? I’m in Canada and am appalled at how our national radio (CBC) is reporting on all this.

  21. I’m in Canada too (BC). I don’t have a specific source but I’ve heard many people claim (including friends) that someone they knew died from other causes and it was put down as a covid death. One was even reported on mainstream media. There have been many allegations that hospitals receive more money if the cause of death is listed as covid, so they have an incentive to do so. In the US, Dr. Scott Jensen, a Minnesota physician and senator, has spoken out about the pressure on doctors to list covid as the cause of death.

  22. This is indeed a very sad day for Swedish citizens as our government is “getting in line”, falling for peer pressure and imposing even stricter restrictions on Swedish citizens! Looking at overall mortality rates for Sweden with a few weeks left of 2020, we are still way below overall mortality levels for 2015, 2016, 217 and 2018 (with an exception for 2019). Oh how I wish that our government would seek the truth and take decisions based on hard facts, science and statistics rather than fear… I’m loss for words… never thought we would end up like this, but again I fear that the pressure from WHO and fellow governments (and indeed misinformed Swedish citizens) have been too tough to withstand. I’m sick to my stomach knowing all businesses that are now going bankrupt and all mental illness and stress across age groups that this is causing. I want to shout and scream but there’s no way to get through… I’ve been reaching out to Swedish media throughout this COVID-19 craziness to ask why they want to fuel fear with incorrect headlines and fake news, but I’m getting zero response.

    Dr Rushworth, I hope that you will be able to continue your excellent work, and that you are not forced to silence like so many of your colleagues globally have been… I wish that the truth shall set us all free one day, but I’m strongly starting to doubt it…

  23. Just another very useful article by Dr. Sebastian. By the way I remember the article about vitamin D and the evidence is convincing. Now I would like to see what Dr. Sebastian thinks about the testimony of Dr. Kory (from FCCC Alliance) given to the US Senate about early out of hospital treatment with ivermectin. There is a text document supporting the talk and a submitted paper. Here the address (less than 9 min) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgOAaLmoa68&t=81s

  24. In Canada, there is a clinical trial of ivermectin in progress. It began Dec. 7 and will end in March, 2021. One hundred patients, quadruple blind protocol, 50 get ivermectin and 50 get placebo. Of course, the medication has been around a very long time, and by March the vaccine will have been in full swing, so posing no real threat to the profits of Pfizer et al. That’s supposing Health Canada approves it, and doesn’t discourage it, as in Australasia.

    In the U.S.A. it has been approved for human use for a while; I don’t know how long.

  25. Hi Dr. Rushworth was wondering if you had any comment regarding possible changes in the Swedish approach now to covid. We in the UK have been following as closely as possible events there because for those of us who do not believe in the lockdown policy the Swedish approach was the one we were agitating for.

    It seems in recent days there is coming a change in policy and it was noticed that Anders Tegnell was not at one of the press conferences where this was mentioned. As someone closely involved in the Swedish health care system could comment on what is happening there? Sweden is now being used as a reason to justify the increasing restrictions in the UK after the King criticised the policy saying the Swedish model had failed. Thanks in anticipation.

  26. Apparently some studies suggest significant weight gain among much of the American and Canadian public as a result of less physical activity and people staying home to avoid the virus. I have read that weight gain is a major driving factor for many chronic diseases that lead to premature mortality, and also for COVID. Could you include weight gain in your analysis of the harms of lockdowns?

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