Man standing alone
© Pexels
I have this weird dream where I'm walking through the local high street about a year ago, and I come across some self-proclaimed seer, a modern-day wannabe Nostradamus who is warning the crowd of a coming tribulation. As I listen, he predicts that in 12 months, the shops, cafés and restaurants in the street and throughout the town will all be closed. So too will the churches. And the schools. And the theatre. And the cinema. In fact, according to him, much of the economic activity in the town and throughout the country shall simply cease for months; the movements of the entire population will be restricted; and breaches of the rules will bring the police down upon you like a ton of bricks. Why? Apparently, there will be a pandemic.

The crowd is interested, and so am I, but just when it seems that people are listening seriously, he kind of ruins the moment when he tells people how deadly the pandemic will be. On the basis of the monumental measures he has told us about, we're all expecting maybe 60% — like the Black Death in the 14th Century. Or maybe even 10-20% perhaps. But no. After pausing for dramatic effect, he continues:
At this time next year, when the virus has gone through the population for more than 6 months, it will have killed ... will have killed 0.056% of the population.

'0.056%?' say the crowd looking at each other in bemusement. Zero point zero five six? The Government is going to shut down the economy; close the churches, the pubs, the restaurants, the cafes' and a ton of other places; restrict movements; and quarantine healthy people for the first time ever for a virus that kills around 0.056% of the population?
Needless to say, the crowd soon leaves the man to himself, as they apparently have better things to do with their time.

And yet here we are. All that has happened over the last two months has been done in the name of tackling a virus which has killed 0.056% of the population (an inflated figure, by the way, since the Coronavirus Act, which raised nary a peep from MPs, changed the way deaths are recorded, so that all cases where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, regardless of positive testing, and regardless of whether it was the main cause of death, go into the official figures. See Dr John Lee's very interesting article here for more details). What would our ancestors have said? What will our descendants say?

For more than two months, those who have questioned the wisdom of the "lockdown" measures have been subject to bucket loads of abuse — I know, as I've been on the receiving end of a decent amount myself — and central to it has been this charge: you are a cold-hearted, callous, unfeeling individual who cares not a jot about human life.

Really? Actually, the reason I started writing about it is precisely the opposite: because I care about human life, and because I could see quite clearly that the measures being taken were hugely disproportionate to the risk from the virus and would bring tremendous suffering. Not only that, but I believed then, and I believe now, that even on its own terms "lockdown" was futile and has not saved lives. This stark truth, which is clear from comparing the likes of non-lockdown Japan and Sweden (which have lost 0.001% and 0.042% of their populations respectively) with countries that did lockdown, is now finally starting to be acknowledged, even at official levels. For instance, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has released a report which showed — to their surprise — that the virus was diminishing before the lockdown was ordered. According to the Director General of the organisation, Camille Stoltenberg:
Our assessment that we could possibly have achieved the same effects and avoided some of the unfortunate impacts by not locking down, but by instead keeping open but with infection control measures.
Governments of countries who followed the "lockdown" path will no doubt argue that they couldn't have known this at the time. But this is not so. Numerous experts out there, such as Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, warned very early on of the futility of these measures to save lives, coupled with the huge damage the measures themselves would bring, but they were ignored.

Furthermore, if you are going to quarantine perfectly healthy people, contrary to every historical practice in dealing with epidemics, at the risk of decimating the socio-economic fabric of your country, you jolly well need a watertight case for doing so. No such case ever existed for what we have seen, and the floundering around of the Government with totally arbitrary, unscientific and lawless rules over the past few weeks demonstrates this rather neatly.

But what of those "unfortunate impacts" that Ms Stoltenberg mentioned, or "entirely obvious consequences," as some of us might term them? In some of my earlier pieces on this (eg. here, here, and here), I mentioned a number of enormous problems I expected to see as a consequence of "lockdown", including (but not restricted to):
  • Huge unemployment
  • A huge rise in poverty
  • A lowering of life expectancy
  • A rise in mental health problems
  • A rise in the suicide rate
  • An increase in domestic violence
  • Many old people dying alone with no carers.
The extent of some of these things won't be known for some time, but let's take a look at some that are starting to be felt.

The effects of the lockdown on unemployment

Unemployment is now becoming manifest. The first claimant count release since the start of the crisis saw the largest rise since records began in 1971 — an increase of 856,500 or 69%. This will surely increase much further in subsequent months, especially as Rishi Sunak's Deferred Unemployment Scheme (aka furlough) becomes unsustainable, and employers who don't have the means to do so are asked to part contribute. As the Telegraph reports here:
As many as 250,000 businesses could be forced to lay off staff because they cannot contribute to wage bills as the taxpayer-backed furlough scheme is wound down, a bleak survey suggests. A quarter of the one million companies relying on Rishi Sunak's wage subsidies will be forced to make "difficult decisions" on layoffs in the coming months, said the Institute of Directors lobby group (IoD).
In the US, the University of Chicago estimates that as many as 42% of jobs lost there may not come back. Who knows how many will come back in the UK, but the Bank of England's ominous prediction that we are heading for the worst economic slump in over 300 years does not bode well. All this will inevitably result in great hardship and deprivation for many, and it will no doubt fall most heavily on those who were already struggling to pay the bills and food.

The effects of the lockdown on mental health

Britain already had a huge mental health crisis prior to the lockdown with, for instance, the number of prescriptions for antidepressants in 2018 being around 70.9 million, almost double the 36 million prescribed in 2008. When the measures were introduced back in March, I groaned at the thought of what was bound to come, and the disaster this would be for those involved and their families, as well as an already overburdened mental health system.

This is not mere supposition. As the Evening Standard reports:
A study from the Mental Health Foundation found that a quarter of UK adults, (24 per cent) have felt loneliness due to the Covid-19 pandemic — and this rises to 44 per cent in the 18-24 age group.
Which of course means more demand for antidepressants and such like, as the The Telegraph reports:
Antidepressant prices have soared by more than 800% during the lockdown, leaving pharmacies facing ruin as they contend with a mounting mental health crisis, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.
If sales of antidepressants in the States are anything to go by, the mental health of millions may be collapsing:
Prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications, such as Klonopin and Ativan, rose 10.2% in the U.S. to 9.7 million in March 2020 from 8.8 million in March 2019, according to the latest data from health-research firm IQVIA. Prescriptions for antidepressants, including Prozac and Lexapro, rose 9.2% to 29.7 million from 27.2 million in the same period.

Some companies have seen more dramatic increases. Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit manager owned by Cigna, says prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications rose 34.1% between mid-February and mid-March, while prescriptions for antidepressants and sleep medications increased 18.6% and 14.8%, respectively. Ginger, which supplies video-and chat-based mental health services to companies, says its psychiatrists wrote 86% more prescriptions for psychotropic drugs, primarily antidepressants, in March and April 2020 compared with January and February.
This account of a college student with mental health issues is, I fear, likely to be extremely common.

The effects of the lockdown on suicides and attempted suicides

It is fairly well established that a rise in unemployment rates leads to a rise in suicide attempts, and so with unemployment rising massively, we would expect to see a rise in this too. But it is not only this that is likely to cause such a rise. The isolation and depression caused by lockdown will be unbearable for some, and it is inevitable that many will end up attempting to take their life.

Again, this is not mere supposition. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, suicide attempts by elderly people have increased as much as six-fold during the crisis:
Dr Amanda Thompsell, chair of the College's faculty of old age psychiatry, told The Telegraph she was concerned at the increasing number of 'serious' suicide attempts by elderly people who could see no end to their isolation due to shielding during lockdown and potentially beyond. 'They have been particularly hit by social isolation,' said Dr Thompsell. They had been cut off from families, their routines disrupted and they had suffered disproportionately more bereavements of relatives and friends whose funerals they could not attend due to health risks.

The effects of the lockdown on d
omestic abuse

With people being restricted to their homes for weeks on end, together with numerous other tensions caused by the measures, it was inevitable that domestic abuse would rise, and although there obviously won't be any hard and fast numbers in terms of prosecutions for some time, the evidence from abuse charities does not look good. According a Parliamentary report:
  • Calls and contacts to the charity Refuge's domestic abuse helpline were 49% higher in the week prior to 15th April than the average prior to the pandemic, and on 6th April, traffic to the helpline website increased by 700% compared to the previous day.
  • The organisation Counting Dead Women claims that the number of women killed by men in the three weeks between 23rd March and 12th April is the highest it has been for at least 11 years and is double that of a hypothetical average 21 days over the last 10 years.
  • The Men's Advice Line for male victims of domestic abuse had an increase in calls of 16.6% in the week of 30th March, and a 42% increase in visits to its website.
  • The Respect phone line, which offers help for domestic abuse perpetrators who want to change and stop being violent, had a 26.86% increase in calls in the week of 30th March, while its website received a 125% increase in visits in the same period compared to the week before.

The effects of the lockdown on the elderly d
ying in loneliness

For me, one of the most heart-rending accounts I have read in the past few weeks was a piece in the Guardian entitled, "Isolated UK care home residents 'fading away', say staff and families". Here are a few quotes:
Care home residents confined to their rooms and forbidden visits from loved ones are giving up on life and 'fading away', say staff and families.

The virus won't be the killer of these people, it's the distress and fear of not seeing family that is doing it,' said one carer who asked to remain anonymous.

'Residents who were giggling, happy and active before the crisis now just lie in their beds or sit alone in their rooms with their doors closed,' added the carer. 'Many now barely respond when you speak to them. Some shout for their friends and family. Others have given up entirely and are fading away.'

Other effects of the lockdown

Time would fail me to mention the large numbers of people who have died because they had their operations cancelled. According to The Times:
A total of 12,335 more people than usual have died at home during the coronavirus pandemic, raising fears about the knock-on effects of telling people not to go to hospital. There have been almost as many unexplained deaths at home as there have been as a result of Covid-19, according to analysis of official figures.
Or of the unbearably moving stories of individual and family heartache, such as that of Melissa Livingstone, a young mother who died after her treatment for a rare form of cancer was stopped, and who was "robbed" of the last chance to make memories with her two-year-old daughter.

It is also my firm belief that dwarfing all other impacts will be the seismic psychological shift that our society is undergoing and will continue to undergo for the foreseeable future. You simply cannot frighten the living daylights out of a population, force little children to play in little taped off squares away from their friends, and tell people they need to keep some entirely arbitrary and unscientific distance from one another indefinitely, without creating a socially dysfunctional, psychologically damaged generation. It's not how humans were made! I hope to say more about that in a subsequent piece.

In Summary

None of these things were, as Camille Stoltenberg claimed, "unfortunate impacts." On the contrary, they were all entirely predictable consequences of the policy of lockdown. But what if that policy itself was entirely futile?

What if that Norwegian study was correct and the same results could have been achieved by not locking down?

What if, as a University of East Anglia study found:
Stay-home policies were not associated with a decline in incidence, and actually showed a positive association with cases. As the number of lock-down days increased, so did the number of cases.
What if, as Marko Kolanovic PhD found in a study for JP Morgan:
This means that the pandemic and Covid-19 likely have [their] own dynamics unrelated to often inconsistent lockdown measures that were being implemented. The fact that re-opening did not change the course of the pandemic is consistent with studies showing that initiation of full lockdowns did not alter the course of the pandemic either.
What if, as Michael Levitt, Professor of Structural Biology at the Stanford School of Medicine has claimed, the spread of Covid-19 finds the same pattern across numerous countries whereby the virus grows exponentially for two weeks, before slowing seemingly irrespective of lockdown and social distancing measures.

What if this policy that allegedly spared us half-a-million deaths, has actually spared us none, but has instead given rise to all the entirely predictable and disastrous consequences of lockdown mentioned above? These are things for future historians to ponder, as they look back in astonishment at the monumental damage we brought upon ourselves to deal with a virus that has so far killed around 0.056% of the population.