Did lockdowns save lives? We will never have a definitive answer to this vital question because it was impossible to conduct controlled experiments — we don’t have two identical countries, one where lockdown was imposed and one where it wasn’t. Nor is it easy to compare similar countries, for the simple reason that every country in the world — bar Comoros in the Indian Ocean — reacted to Covid by introducing at least one non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) by the end of March 2020.
A team from Johns Hopkins University has, however, assessed the many (albeit flawed) studies into whether lockdown works — a ‘meta-analysis’. It reviewed 24 studies which attempted to compare countries according to the stringency of their lockdowns, on whether or not they introduced stay-at-home orders, and which looked at individual NPIs — which is possible because some countries, for example, introduced mask mandates and others did not.
The conclusion? That there was no clear link between lockdown stringency and fewer deaths in the spring of 2020, with lockdowns reducing deaths by only 0.2 per cent. The review further concludes that stay-at-home orders reduced deaths by 2.9 per cent. It could find no clear evidence that any individual NPI had a noticeable effect on mortality.
Needless to say, it is possible to be critical of this analysis. The team weeded out a great number of studies which it considered to be inadequate, such as any study which measured actual events against modelled outcomes. On that basis it dismissed an Imperial College paper produced by Dr Seth Flaxman in July 2020 which claimed that lockdowns had already saved 3.1 million lives in Europe, including 470,000 in the UK.