Since early in the coronavirus pandemic, critics of unprecedented lockdown measures seen worldwide have argued that these interventions cause more harm than the disease itself. But an analysis of global health data suggests there is little evidence to support the idea that the cure is worse than the disease.

The analysis, published in the journal BMJ Global Health, considered claims that lockdowns cause more health harms than Covid-19 by examining their impacts on measures including death rates, routine health services and mental health.

Using an international dataset of all-cause mortality from 94 countries, the researchers found that countries such as New Zealand and Australia experienced no excess mortality last year. In contrast, places with few Covid restrictions such as Brazil, Sweden, Russia and at times parts of the US had large numbers of excess deaths over the course of the pandemic.

“It is … one of the most compelling pieces of evidence to support the notion that the cure was not worse than the disease,” said author Prof Gavin Yamey, from the Duke Global Health Institute at Duke University. “It does seem that countries that acted quickly and aggressively often had fewer deaths than in previous years. One study showed that lockdown may have reduced annual mortality by up to 6% from eliminating flu transmission alone.”

The excess-mortality data could not rule out harms caused by lockdown or conclude whether lockdowns have a net benefit, however, especially given very high excess mortality in many nations that did pursue such strategies such as the UK, the researchers wrote.

Another avenue of inquiry was healthcare services. Although data suggests a clear reduction in attendance for vital non-Covid health services during lockdowns, overwhelmed health services or a high perceived risk of infection at health facilities would also disincentivise people from accessing care, the researchers suggested. “With current evidence, it is simply not possible to support either causal assertion adequately,” they concluded.

The relationship between mental health and lockdowns is often highlighted but the link between large-scale Covid outbreaks and depression and anxiety is often overlooked, the researchers noted. “Missing school clearly affects children’s mental health, but so does losing a loved one to Covid-19.”

Read more of science correspondent Natalie Grover’s report here: Lockdowns do not harm health more than Covid, say researchers



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