Lockdown measures used by governments worldwide to reduce the death toll from COVID-19 had little to no effect on mortality, according to three researchers who analyzed 24 studies.
The researchers, led by Steve Hanke, co-founder of The Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise, screened 18,590 studies to select the 24 papers used for the final analysis.
They concluded that lockdowns in Europe and the United States pared the mortality from COVID-19 by 0.2 percent on average. Shelter-in-place orders reduced mortality by 2.9 percent on average, they found.
“While this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects, they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted,” the researchers wrote.
“In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.”
The study specifically looked at mandated government measures, including mask mandates and travel bans, rather than voluntary measures.
Of all the lockdown measures analyzed, the closure of nonessential businesses appeared to be most effective, reducing COVID-19 mortality by 10.6 percent on average, the study found. The researchers speculate that this was largely due to the closure of bars.
“Only business closure consistently shows evidence of a negative relationship with COVID-19 mortality, but the variation in the estimated effect is large. Three studies find little to no effect, and three find large effects. Two of the larger effects are related to closing bars and restaurants,” the study states.
The study found that lockdowns and limits on gatherings slightly increased COVID-19 mortality by 0.6 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
“Overall, we conclude that lockdowns are not an effective way of reducing mortality rates during a pandemic, at least not during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the researchers wrote.
The finding of the meta-analysis is in line with an analysis of 100 COVID-19 studies published in September last year, which concluded “that lockdowns have had, at best, a marginal effect on the number of Covid-19 deaths.”
Meanwhile, the conclusion contrasts with a late 2020 meta-analysis that found that lockdowns successfully reduced COVID-19 mortality. The researchers in the Johns Hopkins study point out that the 2020 analysis used several modeling studies “which we have explicitly excluded.”
While having little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality, lockdowns had a significant effect on people suffering from other ailments. Lockdowns led to some 40 percent of U.S. adults delaying or avoiding urgent medical care in June 2020. In the UK, lockdown-related delays to lung cancer diagnoses could lead to 2,500 extra deaths, according to an analysis by the UK Lung Cancer Coalition.