Lockdown or Not?

Lockdown or Not? By David Evans

Here at the Wentworth Report we haven’t taken a position on covid or lockdown, except that Australia should have closed its borders from mid-February.

We were paying attention and it was clear enough what was coming. With the benefit of hindsight it is now clear that we were correct. Had Australia had closed its borders in mid February — as we called for publicly in writing at the time — Australia would have both avoided the disease and avoided any lockdown. The cost — an extra five weeks or so of closed borders — would have been as nothing compared to the cost we are now paying. We reckon our rulers were complacent and incompetent for not acting nearly soon enough.

Given that we failed to close the borders in time, the least cost alternative is then a quick sharp lockdown in the order of four weeks to essentially eradicate the virus from our territory. The sharper the lockdown, the shorter it is. It seems pretty clear that this minimizes the amount damage, because it arrives at the low-cost, healthy, long-term solution of a virus-free country (except for inevitable small reinfections that can be contained with contract tracing) with a minimum of lockdown. Beyond that, the cost-benefit balance is murky indeed.

We are neither pro nor anti longer lockdowns. The relative costs and benefits of various shades of lockdown are certainly not clear now, and perhaps never will be. Policy makers have to guess, because there is an awful lot we don’t know about the virus, its health effects, or what happens when people avoid the virus en masse. Both the health and economic costs are confounded by the existence of preexisting problems, like obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, a debt-ridden asset bubble, and an unhealthy reliance on Chinese manufacturing. There will probably never be a clear-cut answer that everyone agrees on.

On covid, as on other topics, we are passing along the interesting things omitted by the politically correct media, and pointing out the empirical evidence.

Conspicuously, we have not been passing along the arguments of the US anti-lockdown websites that are based on bogus information. Arguments based on misreading or misquoting studies, or based on heavily biased samples of people, or simply ignoring the contrary evidence, are not doing anyone any favors. These false arguments weaken the anti-lockdown case, because they leave one wondering if such obviously wrong arguments are all they have.

As Joanne noted yesterday, the world is running a fascinating experiment in real time. The empirical evidence is now overwhelming that lockdowns work (which is a separate issue from their cost).

Let’s look at some evidence. In the following, pay particular attention to the shape of the new infections curves. Different countries are at different starting points in time, depending on when they got infected.

The US anti-lockdown websites aren’t showing you the graphs below, because they are invested in falsely convincing you that lockdowns don’t work.

First, a country with a lockdown so minor it has barely dented the exponential growth. Mass graves have begun.

Next, a country with a mild lockdown, which has successfully flattened the curve but is not yet trying to crush it. The death toll is high and mounting (3,700 deaths in a population of 10 million).

Next, a country with a moderately strict lockdown that (incredibly!) is sabotaging its lockdown by failing to close the borders. The lockdown was imposed much too late, after there was already substantial infection. They have successfully flattened the curve, but due to the sabotage are only crushing the curve very slowly — at this rate, it will take until Nov 3.

The UK and Canada are similar. Try closing your borders, guys.

Next, a country that imposed a moderately strict lockdown, also after substantial infection had already occurred. But they closed their borders. They are well on the way to crushing the curve — almost there.

There are many similar countries, where, after modest initial infection, the combination of lockdown and closed borders is crushing the curve. Examples include Spain, France, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Ireland, Israel, Austria, Japan, and Serbia. All the advanced countries that close their borders can do it.

Next, a country that imposed a moderate lockdown after only mild initial spread. (100 deaths out of 25 million — far fewer than Sweden, which had a similar infection rate by mid-March.)

(At one stage, Australia had more confirmed covid infections that any of the countries above. Not a list we wanted to be on top of.)

Finally, a country with a strict lockdown — China. Remember those pictures of people being welded into their apartments, and people being captured and taken away just for walking down the street? The Chinese Government is probably greatly understating the number of infections, but the shape of the graph is probably about right (except for the “statistical” anomaly in February):

For thousands of years, most of the world’s pandemics have started in China. But what would they know about handling a pandemic?