Just a few months before the outbreak of the corona pandemic, the scientific community was in agreement: Lockdowns are not useful for combating pandemics. With the beginning of the Covid crisis, that changed suddenly, but without new scientific evidence. At least that is the sharp accusation made by the two scientists Phillip W. Magness and Peter C. Earle. Of course, both are actually economists from the American Institute for Economic Research, not virologists, but they refer to numerous findings and epidemiological studies – including those of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The verdict of the two US authors: “Our response to the pandemic, based on lockdowns and closely related ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ (NPIs), represented an unprecedented and unjustified shift in scientific opinion that occurred a few months before its discovery Covid-19 still prevailed. ” Based on historical analysis of pandemics, the serious socio-economic costs of lockdowns and their almost exclusively speculative benefits, science has been reluctant to take such measures.
Before March 2020, the WHO had decided against lockdowns and similar measures against infectious diseases. A year earlier, in March 2019, the WHO said at a conference in Hong Kong: “House arrest for unaffected contacts of a person with proven or suspected influenza” is not sensible. “Most of the evidence currently available on the effectiveness of quarantine in influenza control comes from simulation studies, which are of little informative value”. Therefore, large-scale domestic quarantine “is not recommended as there is no obvious justification for this action”.
The September 2019 report by the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University also came to a negative conclusion: “In connection with a highly effective respiratory pathogen, quarantine may be the least effective measure to contain the spread due to its high level of transmissibility.” This applies in particular to a virus that spreads rapidly through the air, such as the Sars-CoV-2 – which was still undiscovered at the time.
A separate WHO study from 2006 stated, “Forced isolation and quarantine are ineffective and impractical”. She relied on findings from the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. She referred to Edmonton, capital of the Canadian province of Alberta, where “public gatherings were banned, schools, churches, colleges, theaters and other public meeting places were closed and business hours were restricted without this having an obvious impact on the epidemic ”.
Based on a 1927 analysis of the Spanish flu in the US, the study concluded that lockdowns “have not been shown to be effective in urban areas.” Only in remote rural areas “where the number of group contacts is lower” is this strategy theoretically feasible, but this hypothesis has not been tested.
Medical historian John Barry, who wrote the standard 1918 report on the Spanish flu, also declared quarantine measures ineffective: “Historical data clearly shows that quarantine does not work unless it is absolutely rigid and complete,” he wrote in 2009. He summarized the results of a study of influenza outbreaks on US Army bases during the First World War.
A team from Johns Hopkins came to the conclusion in 2006: “No historical observations or scientific studies” could be found that prove the effectiveness of a large-scale quarantine. And: “The negative consequences of a large-scale quarantine are so extreme. . . that this remedy should not be seriously considered ”.
The only question that remains is why this assessment by science has changed from March 2020. According to the two economists, the foreclosure strategy came from the same sources that the WHO sharply criticized in its 2019 report. “The empirical evidence has not changed,” state the two scientists.
A model from Imperial College London had a major influence on the changed attitude towards lockdowns. In April 2020, Nature magazine paid tribute to the Imperial College team, led by Neil Ferguson. It would have developed one of the most important computer simulations on Covid-19. Accordingly, catastrophic casualty figures for an “unmitigated” pandemic would follow. Ferguson’s model promised to bring Covid-19 under control through stricter NPI measures.
“Ferguson built his model by reusing a decades-old flu model that had significant flaws in its scientific assumptions,” claim Phillip W. Magness and Peter C. Earle. For example, there was no way of “assessing the spread of the virus in nursing homes”. The performance of Imperial’s Covid-19 predictions in 189 different countries was assessed on the first anniversary of their publication, March 26, 2021. The result: “Not a single country achieved the model’s predicted mortality rates”. Even Ferguson’s most radical model, which assumed a strict lockdown that curbs all public contact by 75 percent for over a year, predicted more deaths than 170 out of 189 countries.
The two researchers cannot convincingly justify why the health authorities acted and still do so today.