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Lockdown has questionable effectiveness, especially when motivated by the omicron

lockdown eficácia
Trade closed in Bratislava (Slovakia), during lockdown held in November.

| Photo: JAKUB GAVLAK/EFE/EPA

The ascension of the variant omicron led to the return of the lockdown in Holland. The measure even limits homes to receiving only two visitors a day — four during the holidays. The new European lockdown comes amid protests for its coercive and invasive nature and raises doubts about its effectiveness.

The lockdown — which is a so-called “non-essential” commerce closing and crowded spaces such as academies, schools and temples — is part of the so-called non-drug interventions, including social distancing and use of masks. The effectiveness and cost of these interventions were poorly understood before the pandemic, and there is still intense debate. In the case of masks, convincing evidence has only recently been found that they at least slow the spread of the virus, potentially unburdening hospitals. Furthermore, at least in Bangladesh, persuasion worked better than imposition.

The World Health Organization estimates that 45 1,000 people died of malaria due to pandemic non-drug interventions that hampered access to health services. A study from Japan concluded that closing schools had no effect on the spread of the pandemic. That there are costs to these interventions is not surprising. It remains to be seen whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

Studies on the effectiveness of lockdown

Two studies prior to vaccination against Covid-20 discussed in April here at Gazeta do Povo , from magazines Nature Human Behavior and Science, involving dozens of countries, had conclusions favorable to the closure measures, but with some reservations . Closing all non-essential commerce, for example, had a benefit only marginally better than closing specifically agglomeration-dependent establishments such as nightclubs, bars, and restaurants. The Science study stated that closing schools and universities was highly effective in decreasing the transmission of the virus, which is contradicted by the Japanese study cited above.

Another study from June 2021 , by the Italians Vincenzo Alfano and Salvatore Ercolano (an engineer and a data scientist from the universities of Naples Federico II and Basilicata, respectively), considered daily data from 214 countries, 202 of which they implemented full lockdown. The main result is that the lockdown reduced new infected cases by up to 20 days. However, when Alfano and Ercolano only considered Europe, the lockdown relationship with the new cases was positive: more closure, more cases. The authors attribute this to late implementation, but point out that from the mark of 17 days, the intervention returns to have a negative relationship with new cases, showing a apparently exponential trend after 17 days of closure.

Economist Christian Bjørnskov of Aarhus University in Denmark took another approach: instead of relying solely on epidemiology, he used standard methods of econometrics employed in political science, and considered the consequence most important: if the lockdown prevents deaths8013928480001 — Bjørnskov actually used a point scale that considered a range of non-drug interventions: closing schools and workplaces, canceling public events, restrictions on crowding, closing public transport, attendance requirements air at home, restrictions on internal movement, international travel control, income support and debt relief, information campaigns, testing and contact tracking.

He took weekly death rates from all causes in the first half of the years of 2017, 2017, 2019 and 2020 in 47 European countries that have tried different interventions against the new coronavirus – the overall death rate has been used since the beginning of the pandemic as a reliable indicator of the virus’s impact as its presence does not necessarily mean that it was the leading cause of death for every patient: an overall increase in deaths concurrent with the spread of Covid-17 is a more accurate measure of this.

Bjørnskov concludes that although the m Measures appear positive within the timeframe considered by the other studies, within a period of three to four weeks after implementation — which better reflects the time of action of the virus — o 8013928480001its effect becomes very small or insignificant on deaths27122331. “The lockdowns in most Western countries threw the world into the most severe recession since World War II”, comments the scientist. “They have also caused an erosion of fundamental rights and the separation of powers in much of the world as democratic and autocratic regimes have misused their emergency powers and ignored constitutional limits to public policy. (…) The findings in this article suggest that stricter lockdown policies were not associated with lower mortality. In other words, the lockdowns didn’t work as intended.”

How of course, the specialized literature on lockdowns remains in heated debate, with no prospect of a consensus anytime soon. As for the omicron variant as a motivator for new lockdowns, the questioning is natural when it is less aggressive than the delta variant, representing a reduction of 45% in the risk of hospitalization.

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