A new study from Johns Hopkins University found that the lockdowns in 2020 did little to combat Covid-19 mortality. Given the huge economic and personal costs of these lockdowns, the study obviously raises questions about the basis for these extreme measures. However, as will come as no surprise to anyone on this blog, I view the study as much a statement against the censorship of commentators and researchers who were banned or attacked for questioning the lockdowns. Once again, it would have been better for public health to have this debate than to shut down any opposing views in the name of science.
The researchers declared “We find no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality.”
The study refutes the claim of researchers at the Imperial College London, for example, who predicted that such steps could reduce death rates by up to 98%.
They did find that “closing nonessential businesses seems to have had some effect (reducing COVID-19 mortality by 10.6%), which is likely to be related to the closure of bars.”
The most striking aspect of this study is that is part of a discussion that we never really had. Social media companies were banning or tagging anyone expressing doubts over such measures.
We have seen various journalistic and scientific figures banned for expressing skepticism over pandemic claims from the origins of the virus to the efficacy of certain treatments. For example, when many people raised the possibility that the virus may have been released from the nearby Chinese virology lab (rather than the “wet market” theory), they were denounced as virtually a lunatic fringe. Even objections to the bias of authors of a report dismissing the lab theory were ridiculed. The New York Times reporter covering the area called it “racist” and implausible. Now, even W.H.O. admits that the lab theory is possible and Biden officials are admitting that it is indeed plausible.
The same is true with the debate over the efficacy of masks. For over a year, some argued that the commonly used masks are ineffective to protect against the virus. Now, the CDC is warning that the masks do not appear to block these variants and even CNN’s experts are calling the cloth masks “little more than facial decorations.”
Yet, the W.H.O. head is now embracing censorship as a means of combating the “infodemic.” There are also calls, including from the White House, for Spotify to ban or curtail Joe Rogan’s show for allowing dissenting views to be aired on Covid or its treatment.
If there had not been such extensive censorship of dissenting viewpoints, there might have been more discussion on the costs and science behind the lockdowns. Instead, there was a chilling effect on such dissenting voices and anyone expressing doubts were labeled extremists or conspiracy theorists. Recently, for example, scientists have come forward to admit that they also suspected the Wuhan lab was the origin of virus but were silenced by the backlash at the CDC and universities.
I do not know what the data will show on these issues and I readily recognize that, in the early days, many wanted to take the most protective course. However, we could have taken that course without actively seeking to censor or silence those who had doubts on these measures.