A motorway sign on the M8 motorway advising on essential travel only on March 24, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

10 reasons why a second lockdown is a terrible idea

The Government did not have a good reason when the first lockdown was imposed and it doesn’t have a good reason today

Following the news that England is going to be plunged into a second national lockdown from midnight on Thursday, I thought I’d put this list together just in case anyone needs reminding why lockdowns are a really, really bad idea.

  1. Our rights belong to us by dint of our status as freeborn Englishmen. Therefore, if the Government is going to suspend them, it needs a really good reason for doing so. It did not have a good reason when the first lockdown was imposed in March and it doesn’t have a good reason today. (I made this argument in discussion with Prof Michael Levitt.)
  2. Quarantining the healthy as well as the sick to stop a virus spreading has been proven not to work historically and, for that reason, was advised against in the UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011. More recently, Dr David Nabarro of the World Health Organisation cautioned governments to treat lockdowns as a “last resort”.
  3. There’s little reason to expect lockdowns to reduce Covid-19 mortality. The evidence on this is plentiful, but to give just one example: the per capita Covid-19 fatalities in the eight US states that didn’t shut down (North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Utah) is lower than in the 42 states that did. (See this piece in the WSJ.) The main argument for locking down – and the one we heard at the Downing Street press briefing on Saturday – is that it prevents healthcare systems becoming overwhelmed, which would not only mean more Covid-19 patients dying but non-Covid-19 patients, too. But in those US states that didn’t shut down, the healthcare systems weren’t overwhelmed – and nor was Sweden’s. A group of researchers at Uppsala University plugged Sweden’s numbers into Professor Neil Ferguson’s Imperial College model in early April, hoping to persuade the authorities to abandon its mitigation strategy and impose a lockdown. According to Ferguson’s model, if the Swedish Government continued to pursue its “reckless” policy the capacity of the healthcare system would be overwhelmed 40-fold. Needless to say, it wasn’t even overwhelmed one-fold. In any event, the Government has already built additional critical care capacity into the English healthcare system to mitigate this risk – the seven Nightingale Hospitals, for instance, as well as all those ventilators the Government procured in March and April. Oddly, they weren’t mentioned in Saturday’s Downing Street briefing. As for overwhelmed healthcare systems being unable to treat other diseases, isn’t that already happening in our underwhelmed, Covid-ready NHS? One argument Patrick Vallance made on Saturday was that if Covid-19 admissions continue to rise at their present rate, the NHS would have to start turning away other patients in need of critical care. But that’s a sliding scale, not a binary choice, and the NHS has been turning patients away since March.
  4. Interrupting transmission among those who aren’t vulnerable to the disease, i.e. everyone under 75 and in good health, delays the time it takes for the population to reach herd immunity and that, in turn, prolongs the period in which the vulnerable have to be shielded and causes needless collateral damage to those who aren’t at risk. (See the Great Barrington Declaration.) Given that we’re going to have to learn to live with this virus, and that the “vaccines” are only likely to reduce the severity of the symptoms, what’s the point of continually kicking the can down the road?
  5. Lockdowns cause more loss of life than they prevent. This is contested, obviously, because the number of lives they’ve saved depends on a counter-factual generated by shonky computer models, and, on the other side of the equation, we don’t yet know how much loss of life has been caused by the lockdowns. (For instance, unnecessary cancer deaths will occur over the next five years.) But given that the average age of the people whose lives are supposedly being saved is above 80, and given the tens of thousands of people who will die unnecessarily as a result of cancer screening programmes being postponed, cancer care being delayed, strokes and cardiovascular disease being untreated, elective surgeries being postponed, out-patient care being cancelled and the long-term impact of job losses on mortality, it seems overwhelmingly likely that lockdowns cause a net loss of life. (The Department of Health and Social Care, Office for National Statistics, Government Actuary’s Department and Home Office have tried to calculate the collateral damage caused by the first lockdown and estimated it could be as high as 200,000 deaths. But they claim the lockdown was still worth it by contrasting the Government’s suppression strategy with an “unmitigated” scenario in which they claim that ~1.5 million lives would have been lost. That’s about 420,000 to Covid-19 and a further 1.1 million non-Covid patients who wouldn’t have been able to access health care in our overwhelmed NHS. You can check the sums here.) I’m just talking about the domestic impact of the lockdown here. Sceptics can easily show that the loss of life caused by all the lockdowns, collectively, is greater than the lives supposedly saved by pointing to the catastrophic impact of the lockdowns on the developing world. (See point 8 below.) Professor Sunetra Gupta estimates that 130 million people will starve to death as a result of the global economic recession triggered by the lockdowns. Zealots – even neutrals – argue that the pandemic would have caused the same economic damage in the absence of the lockdowns because people would have naturally adjusted their behaviour in ways that would have caused just as much harm. But that’s implausible. The UK economy contracted by 20.4 per cent in Q2, while Sweden’s only contracted by 8.6 per cent.
  6. Lockdowns wreak havoc with people’s mental health and cause a rise in suicides. The Centre for Mental Health estimates that up to 10 million people in England (almost 20 per cent of the population) will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of the crisis. 1.5 million of those will be children and young people under 18. The UK Government hasn’t released any data about the number of suicides in 2020 yet, but anecdotal evidence from GPs suggests it’s increased significantly, particularly among children.
  7. Lockdowns cause catastrophic economic damage, destroying businesses and throwing millions out of work. Boris announced yesterday that the furlough programme would be extended for another month. But how do you compensate those people who won’t have a job to go back to? 750,000 people lost their jobs as a result of the first lockdown. How many more will lose their jobs as a result of the second? According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which keeps tabs on public spending, the Government will have to borrow £372 billion for the current financial year (April 2020 to April 2021), compared to £55 billion in a normal year. And that’s before the cost of new lockdowns and support measures announced on Saturday are factored in.
  8. The global economic recession caused by the lockdowns will reverse some of the progress that’s been made in the past 30 years in lifting 1.2 billion people out of poverty and cause huge loss of life. See “The Coming Post-Covid Global Order” published in Quillette by Joel Kotkin and Hügo Krüger: “In its most recent analysis, the World Bank predicted that the global economy will shrink by 5.2 per cent in 2020, with developing countries overall seeing their incomes fall for the first time in 60 years. The United Nations predicts that the pandemic recession could plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day. The disruption will be particularly notable in the poorest countries. The UN has forecast that Africa could have 30 million more people in poverty. A study by the International Growth Centre spoke of “staggering” implications with 9.1 per cent of the population descending into extreme poverty as savings are drained, with two-thirds of this due to lockdown. The loss of remittances has cost developing economies billions more income.”
  9. Lockdowns are fundamentally undemocratic in that they involve the arrogation of power by the executive branch of government at the expense of the legislative branch, rule by decree, postponing elections so politicians remain in power after their term of office has expired (e.g. Sadiq Khan), suspending the right to protest, censoring the fourth estate (see Ofcom’s ‘coronavirus guidance’) and restricting travel. What guarantee do we have that things will return to normal when the pandemic is over? Will the powers-that-be ever declare victory in this war, given that it will mean a diminution of their power? As Milton Friedman said, nothing is as permanent as a temporary government programme.
  10. Lockdowns require police to enforce arbitrary, illogical rules in a draconian, heavy-handed way (e.g. fining students £10,000 for hosting parties). That undermines the rule of law and destroys policing by consent.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5

Subscribe
Critic magazine cover