Do Lockdowns Work? Only If You Lock the Borders Down, Too

Do Lockdowns Work? Only If You Lock the Borders Down, Too. By Carl Noah.

Finally, someone else. We’ve been shouting this message from this blog and Joanne’s blog for a year now. Yet the world ignores this obvious point.

The evidence suggests that lockdowns have been effective, but only when they were combined with strict border controls. Looking across the Western world — Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — just five countries have kept the rate of confirmed COVID-19 deaths below 300 per million.

Those five are: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Australia, and New Zealand. Note that in every case, the per capita rate isn’t just below 300 per million, but (as of this writing) below 150 per million.

All five are wealthy, geographically peripheral countries with low population densities. Three are islands. The other two, Finland and Norway, have land borders that run mostly through remote wilderness, punctuated by a few easily monitored points of road and rail entry.

The largest cities in these two countries, Helsinki and Oslo, contain only about 600,000 people each, and are dwarfed by true international hubs such as London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, and New York (all of which became COVID-19 hot spots). So each of the five successful countries had a head start in responding to the pandemic.

Australia and New Zealand are often cited by lockdown advocates as models for other countries to emulate. Since the pandemic began, both countries have imposed local or national lockdowns whenever case numbers have started to rise. (Earlier this month, in fact, all of Western Australia was ordered into five-day lockdown when a single case of COVID-19 was reported among the guard staff at a Perth hotel being used as a quarantine facility.) Overall, such policies have been highly successful. Even at the height of the pandemic, Australia never reported more than 716 cases in a single day, while New Zealand has never reported more than 89 daily cases. In fact, neither country has reported more than 50 per day since mid-September, and for the last month the numbers have been in the low single digits.

He left out an important part. Because there have been so few days of lockdown in Australia and NZ, life has gone on pretty much as pre-covid most of the time. Here in WA, ten of the last 12 months have been with virtually no covid restrictions — movies, restaurants, business, schools all operating as normal, no masks, etc.

Crucially, both countries have maintained strict border controls throughout the pandemic. …

So it appears that it was only by combining lockdowns with strict border controls that Australia and New Zealand managed to contain the virus, and thereby keep their COVID-19 death rates low. …

The other three countries mentioned above — Iceland, Norway, and Finland — have also maintained strict border controls. …

In the rest of Europe and North America, by contrast, there is little evidence that lockdowns have been associated with low COVID-19 death rates. …

As researcher Philipe Lemoine has noted, there are several examples of locations where case numbers fell continuously in the absence of lockdowns, as well as several examples where case numbers rose continuously in the presence of a lockdown. His analysis suggests that once some basic measures are put in place — [asking symptomatic individuals to self-isolate, encouraging vulnerable people to work from home, and restricting large indoor gatherings] — the imposition of additional measures may have only a marginal impact on overall transmission. …

This is not to say that lockdown policies have had no beneficial effect whatsoever in Europe and North America. But their effect seems to be small enough that it has been obscured by the statistical noise associated with cross-country variation. Certainly, the effect of lockdowns does not stand out in the same way as that of border controls in geographically peripheral countries. These latter measures worked not only in Australia and New Zealand, but also in East Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan.

It’s important to note, however, that some Western countries have failed to contain the virus despite maintaining highly strict border controls. Hungary has had 201 days of total border closures, but has reported about as many COVID-19 deaths per capita as Italy and Spain, two of the countries where the first massive European outbreaks started. Landlocked Hungary borders seven other countries. Its example suggests that a rigorously enforced border-control strategy may not be workable for states that lack pre-existing geographical advantages. …

[This] raises the question of whether countries like the UK, France, and Italy would have been better off using a different approach. While the marginal benefits of curfews and business closures may have been small, the associated costs were substantial. During the first wave, case numbers were already high by the time governments reacted, so closing borders at that time probably wouldn’t have made any difference. But what about the second wave in mid-to-late 2020? Case numbers in Europe began rising in August, spiked in November, and then rose again last month. If the affected countries had imposed strict border controls in the early summer, and then used temporary lockdowns to suppress the virus completely when there were new outbreaks, there may have been substantially fewer deaths during the winter.

So yes, lockdowns work. But only if you close the borders.

  • The second wave in Melbourne, which caused 700 daily infections at its peak and required 4 months of lockdown to eradicate, was caused by just one or two cases that slipped through quarantine.
  • The US infection rate over summer 2020 of 50,000 daily infections is compatible with a moderate lockdown causing an R of 96% but totally undone by just 100 cases entering the US each day.

Taiwan has done best of all.


A remarkable thing is how such unremarkably mundane common sense observations like, “Lockdowns can have only very limited effectiveness when new cases are constantly introduced across open borders,” is considered a rare insightful viewpoint. Which it is, of course but how did anything so obvious become so rare?

I suspect the anti-common sense and anti-critical thinking teachings of our universities is, after some time, bearing this strange fruit where seemingly educated people are so entranced by evidence-free assertions, they become unable to even imagine anything outside a viewpoint they adopted wholesale from on high. Social Justice U. and High School is now costing lives and livelihoods at an alarming rate but like the Soviets this is chalked up to ‘saboteurs’ ; those who aren’t following the Policy with all their heart. To them, lockdowns must be failing because people aren’t really locking down, there are saboteurs among us, ruining the Plan.

Yep. And same for the anti-lockdown camp. Both groups are following their political camp, rather than the evidence in front of them and their God-given brain.

Now, get onto ivermectin, HCQ, and vitamin D!