When respected scientific experts sitting on prestigious governmental advisory committees warned citizens early last year that the only way to protect themselves against Covid-19 was to shut down their businesses and stay at home until public health officials deemed it safe to come out again, most complied, even at great personal and economic cost.
The result has been one of the most far-reaching and unprecedented social experiments of modern times: the systematic and mandatory paralysis of a large swathe of normal social activity, including schooling, work, leisure, and mobility. If this giant experiment had been run on a one-off basis for a few weeks, the impact might have been moderate; but as it morphed into “rolling” lockdowns, the cure became far worse than the disease.
The question is, what have been the fruits of this giant public policy experiment? Have lockdowns actually been vindicated by their net benefits?
In order to adequately address this question, we must be clear on one thing: the appropriate benchmark for assessing the merits of lockdown policies is not just their capacity to reduce Covid infections or deaths, but their capacity to advance the overall health and well-being of affected populations.
The predictable harms of lockdowns, which will have to be carefully documented and tallied over the coming months and years, are extensive.
They include the worst global recession, according to World Bank analysts, since World War II, and dramatic increases in poverty and unemployment (currently at 25% in Ireland, including recipients of Covid payments according to the Central Office of Statistics), which are known to bring in their train declines in mental and physical health. This is also resulting in reduced public funding for healthcare due to a depressed economy; and an increase in social inequality, as day labourers and contract workers are uniquely vulnerable to the economic shock of lockdowns.