Although many policy makers across the world refuse to admit it, lockdowns kill. Professors Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta and Jay Bhattacharya summarized this in the Newsweek on 30 October 2020, that "Lockdown strategies have led to many avoidable deaths among those at high risk from COVID-19 infections, while creating enormous collateral non-COVID health damage on everyone else".
That lockdowns kill more people than COVID was also acknowledged in a 15 July 2020 report by the UK Department of Health and Social Care, Office for National Statistics, Government Actuary's Department and Home Office which noted that "when morbidity is taken into account, the estimates for the health impacts from a lockdown and lockdown induced recession are greater in terms of QALYs than the direct COVID-19 deaths".
There are two types of lockdown deaths. The harms of omission are deaths that were not averted because the risk-based approach was inverted with a focus on low-risk groups instead of on the high-risk groups. For example, in Victoria in Australia the government failed to provide N95 masks in high-risk settings but focused, instead, on trying to stop the spread of the virus among low-risk groups.
The harms of commission of lockdowns are of two types. First, there are the severe mental harms, amounting to torture when people are locked indoor for months at a time. There are many non-fatal consequences of these mental health issues, such as increased self-harm by children. Second, due to the fear, terror and hysteria created by lockdowns, many people in critical health condition did not seek or get timely health check-ups and treatment, leading, for instance, to a spurt in heart-related deaths in 2020. There are also enormous long-term health harms from the compulsion to stay indoors for months on end.
Estimating the size of the pandemic
In my 6 March 2020 article on the pandemic, I noted the extremely high initial mortality estimates from experts, many of whom said that this was going to be in the category of the Spanish flu. I cautioned, however, that:
"This doesn't mean we should lock down entire societies. Instead, we need a risk-based, data-driven approach that will minimise the spread of disease while facilitating economic activity".By mid-April 2020 it was clear that this was not the Spanish flu. I critiqued Neil Ferguson's model on 19 April 2020 - at a time when Sweden's cases had plateaued. I waited for more information and concluded on 30 May 2020 that
"This virus is quite bad but is definitely not like the Spanish flu in its lethality. It is better compared with the Asian flu of 1957-58 or the Hong Kong flu of 1968-1970, both of which were around 20 times less lethal than the Spanish flu".The pandemic has fortunately turned out to be even milder. On 20 November 2020 I looked at official data on 2020 deaths in Sweden to deduce that the coronavirus pandemic is more in the nature of a bad flu. Based on updated Swedish data as at 11 December 2020, I believe that there would be around 3000-3500 additional deaths this year compared with what we could have otherwise expected in 2020.
But here's the key point: that in 2019 there were 3,419 fewer deaths in Sweden than in 2018 because of a mild flu season. We know that most covid deaths in 2020 in Sweden have been among the elderly (with those older than 75 constituting 80 per cent of the deaths). This strongly suggests that many of these 3,419 people (or more) who escaped the flu in 2019 have now died in 2020. If that is confirmed, it will be hard to detect even a mild pandemic in Sweden's total deaths: just a "bad flu".
Why has this pandemic turned out to be so mild?
Professor Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University was right to suggest in 2013 that big pandemics are very unlikely in the modern world because of constant international intermingling.
The most significant risk to a prematurely-born neonate sheltered in a bubble is that it can die from the mildest infection. That is also why the arrival of the Europeans so severely impacted native American and indigenous Australian populations, since they had no resistance to the novel bugs the Europeans were carrying.
But in the modern world, people continuously share with their domestic counterparts the mild bugs that they have picked up from their international travels. This "cross-fertilisation" of bugs across the world builds strong global immunity.
Likewise, children have a robust immune system that learns quickly. According to a report in Nature on 10 December 2020, children are "the main reservoir for seasonal coronaviruses that cause the common cold" and therefore benefit from cross-reactivity (I discussed this on 24 May 2020). Another factor is that "their noses contain fewer ACE2 receptors, which the virus uses to gain access to cells". Their innate T-cell immunity is also particularly potent for this virus. Overall, the human species has a high level of immunity to this coronavirus.
The fact that the human species has strong pre-existing immunity to a wide range of viruses was the key lesson learnt from the swine flu "pandemic". Peter Doshi wrote on 17 September 2020 in the British Medical Journal that:
"The data forced a change in views at WHO and CDC, from an assumption before 2009 that most people 'will have no immunity to the pandemic virus' to one that acknowledged that 'the vulnerability of a population to a pandemic virus is related in part to the level of pre-existing immunity to the virus'. But by 2020 it seems that lesson had been forgotten".Using Sweden's data to estimate global lockdown deaths
Sweden was the only country that did not impose any coercive lockdowns, border closures or mandatory mask requirements. It followed the well-established science and policies that were detailed in all pandemic plans across the world prior to the Wuhan lockdown. As a result, it remains the only benchmark for "normal" deaths from this pandemic. Without Anders Tegnell we would never have come to know the true magnitude of lockdown deaths.
It will therefore be a mistake to look at the data on excess deaths of 2020 in nations other than Sweden to try to identify the magnitude of this pandemic, for their excess deaths include a vast number of lockdown deaths.
In my 68,000-word complaint lodged with the International Criminal Court 13 November 2020 I have estimated that lockdowns have caused around two million deaths worldwide and shortened the lives of hundreds of millions. But I've also flagged the need to undertake rigorous analysis to pin down these numbers.
Estimating Sweden's actual excess deaths for 2020
We will first need to estimate a baseline of actual annual expected deaths in 2020 for Sweden. For instance, I believe that Sweden would have had around 92,500 to 93,000 deaths in 2020 had we followed past trends and the population growth rate.
This estimate will need to be refined. A crude method might be to take the average mortality rate per million over the past three years and control for population growth and any long-term health improvements. More refined methods might control for patterns of variation in flu intensity in different years. This baseline is crucial since it will allow us to make a viable estimate of the additional deaths in Sweden in 2020, which I've currently estimated to be around 3000-3500 (compared with hysterical epidemiological models which predicted well over 100,000 additional deaths).
The need to identify "business-as-usual" harms
Distinguishing lockdown deaths from covid deaths will require careful statistical analysis. In identifying the harms attributable to lockdowns, we need to exclude any harms that might have occurred in a "business-as-usual" situation, i.e. in a situation (as in Sweden) in which public health policies are not disproportionate and unlawful.
Thus, even in Sweden a level of mental pressure would have been experienced within the community even with voluntary social distancing. Some of the additional deaths in Sweden might therefore not be due to Covid at all but due to fear and stress caused by the "pandemic" among the Swedes, leading to additional heart-related or other such deaths. Such "business-as-usual" harms must be attributed to Nature, unlike lockdown harms which are attributable to Man.
Identifying lockdown harms
The objective of this analysis will be to compare the harms in a particular country (say, India) with harms experienced in Sweden, to determine whether there have been more harms in a particular category. For instance, comparing the age distribution of deaths between India and Sweden in 2020 will be a key part of the analysis.
Preliminary data indicates that Sweden has had fewer deaths in 2020 among those aged 64 or less, than in the average year. On the other hand, it is almost certain that lockdown nations have experienced a much higher death rate in this age group than in the average year. If this is confirmed, then that would be the smoking gun. For instance, if 100 people younger than 64 die in an average year in India but 120 have died this year, then these 20 are prima facie lockdown deaths.
In doing this analysis data will need to be standardised to make the two countries relatively comparable, for instance, on the basis of deaths per million. Data from previous flu seasons or pandemics in India could be used to provide a reality check since coercive measures were never implemented in the past.
Impact of policy settings
In most countries, a major fear psychosis was drummed up by governments. As a result, many vulnerable people did not get themselves tested or were reluctant to go to the hospital when they were experiencing serious heart or cancer-related issues. Different governments took different approaches to the generation and maintenance of fear. In some cases governments actively stopped testing people and also reduced capacity in their hospitals for treating normal ailments.
On the other hand, Sweden not only did not create any fear in the community, it ensured full normalcy of ordinary hospital services while providing well-balanced advice to undertake voluntary social distancing. And while some broader restrictions were imposed on the size of gatherings, normal life was able to continue for the most part.
At the same time, Sweden was not fully prepared for protecting the elderly during the first wave even though it did implement a number of measures to protect them. As a result, a few more of the elderly have probably died this year in Sweden than would have otherwise died. Many other places, like New York and Melbourne, of course, did a far worse job. Further, Sweden did not use HCQ to treat covid patients which meant that more people have died of covid in Sweden than would have otherwise died.
The detailed identification and analysis of the impacts of all such policy differences between Sweden and relevant countries (including within the states and cities of these countries) will have to be undertaken to get a sense of the circumstances which might have led to lockdown deaths. In general, the specific pattern of lockdown deaths in different countries is likely to be correlated with the specific nature of their lockdowns and other local policies. In addition, controls will need to be put into place in the analysis for seasonal variation, Vitamin D sufficiency, prevalence of cross-reactivity and dietary habits.
What about deaths which might have been lower than normal in particular categories, such as traffic deaths? Although this would need to be separately considered, I suspect Sweden had virtually the same reduction in traffic as most other European nations but any major differences in traffic intensity would need to be factored into the analysis.
Short-term vs long-term harms
So far I have outlined short-term lockdown harms but there has also been a massive build-up of long-term lockdowns harms that have shortened the lives of millions of people.
One way to assess them is to look at the economic impacts of the lockdowns. The economies of lockdown countries have been decimated and will take decades to recover. Such loss of economic capacity has serious long-term health effects. Unemployment and poverty are known to cause major health harms and to shorten life spans. Although such estimates will necessarily be less certain, they should form part of the analysis for each country.
Overall, assessing lockdown harms is not a trivial task and will require a team of highly skilled analysts. Many studies have already been published, some of which I have cited in my complaint to the International Criminal Court. Many more studies are underway as we speak.
This will be a major piece of work for the world in 2021 - to work out how many millions lives have been destroyed or harmed globally by the lockdowns.
Born and raised in India, Sanjeev Sabhlok holds Indian-Australian nationality. He is a well-known politician from Australia who served in the Victorian Treasury Department before resigning in September, 2020. He attended the University of Southern California and holds a degree in economics.