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Mandated Lockdowns: More Harm Than Good?

Written by Jason Stutman
Posted September 19, 2020

It may seem like ages ago, but it was only a few months back in March when we were led to believe that in order to combat the impending coronavirus pandemic we needed to lock down the world and flatten the curve.

If we didn’t succeed in this critical mission, hospitals would be overwhelmed and millions of people would die. We needed more ventilators, more ICU beds, more PPE, and more health care workers. 

The only way to save ourselves was through an unprecedented nationwide quarantine. It wouldn’t take long in the U.S. according to the White House; we only needed fifteen days to slow the spread.

Fast forward more than half a year and the goalposts have clearly shifted. Hospitals are well under capacity and have been for months, yet lockdown measures are still widely in place. Curiously enough, no one talks about flattening the curve anymore.

Instead, many are now talking about eradicating the virus before we return to normal, a feat that no serious epidemiologist was ever considering but one that many politicians have gravitated towards in an effort to minimize any perceived level of culpability. Politicians don't want the blame for COVID-19-related deaths, and they don't want you to consider that they were wrong to institute lockdown measures in the first place.

A recent paper published in the Cambridge Coronavirus Collection helps to provide us with some perspective on the early decision making at the height of COVID-19 panic and how legislators failed to comprehend the reality of the situation early on. Here’s the core conclusion from that paper:

Sampling bias in coronavirus mortality calculations led to a ten-fold increased mortality overestimation on March 11, 2020, U.S. Congressional testimony. This bias most likely followed from information bias due to misclassifying a seasonal influenza infection fatality rate as a case fatality rate, evident in a NEJM.org editorial. Evidence from the World Health Organization confirmed that the approximate case fatality rate of the coronavirus is generally no higher than that of seasonal influenza. By early May 2020, mortality levels from COVID-19 were considerably below predicted overestimations, a result which the public attributed to successful mitigating measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In short, we know now that in making initial decisions to lock down most of the country, and in figuring out its public messaging, the government was operating under the assumption that COVID-19 was 10 times more deadly than it actually is. The public later attributed the lower-than-expected mortality levels to successful mitigation efforts.

The idea that government-led lockdown efforts contributed to meaningfully slowing the spread is certainly now in the interest of elected officials who own those early decisions, but it is hardly reflective of the truth. Just consider a few of the worst-performing countries and the actions they took:

  • Peru had strict military-enforced lockdowns yet claims the second-highest death rate in the world at 93.71 deaths for every 100,000 citizens. 
  • San Marino is the worst-performing nation in the world at 124.32 deaths per 100,000. The country went into lockdown on March 1, earlier than most other European countries. 
  • Belgium ranks third-worst in the world. It, too, followed strict lockdown procedures.

Now consider the primary target of early media criticism for not imposing a government-mandated lockdown: Sweden. The country’s health officials stood up against the early hysteria and did what they thought was the best long-term strategy: let the virus spread amongst the non-vulnerable in order to develop herd immunity.

Sweden’s execution of this strategy was by no means perfect, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it has worked in time. The country suffered the brunt of its damage in the first three months of the outbreak but is now averaging just 1.6 coronavirus-related deaths per day (over the last 30 days). Sweden hasn’t had more than six deaths in a single day since July.Sweden Deaths Per Day

Meanwhile, Sweden’s European neighbors are witnessing a resurgence of coronavirus cases as they bounce back and forth between lockdowns and re-openings. On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of a “very serious situation” in Europe, with “alarming rates” of virus transmission.

According to WHO regional director Hans Kluge, "Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March. Last week, the region's weekly tally exceeded 300,000 patients."

It’s worth noting that this spike in new cases also includes Sweden’s Scandinavian neighbors. Norway reported 289 new cases on September 15, its highest single-day case number since April:

Norway New Case Spike

Denmark reported 369 new cases on September 16, also its highest single-day case number since April:

Denmark New Case Spike

Sweden, however, has experienced no such surge. Not only have related deaths in the country flatlined, but new daily cases as of mid-September are down 89% from the country’s peak.

To be clear, none of this suggests that COVID-19 is not a disease worth taking seriously or that non-pharmaceutical mitigation efforts like mask-wearing have not been helpful. It is to say, however, that the public was greatly misled by government officials, legislators, and the media about the virus and how to get through it in the most painless way possible.

Whether purposeful or not, the early misinformation campaigns around COVID-19 were used as the primary moral justification for government overreach across the globe. If you disagreed with it, you were branded as callous and wanting your grandma to die. We know now, though, that this overreach has not only been largely ineffective in reducing COVID-19-related deaths but that it also continues to linger well beyond the initial rationale of flattening the curve.

I can’t help but think of an old fable about frogs and hot water; it goes something like this: If you toss a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. If you gradually raise the temperature over time, the frog will stay there until it’s boiled alive. You could say the fable serves as a metaphor for what we are experiencing right now: a gradual chipping away of individual freedoms that society grudgingly accepts bit by bit.

The thing about that old fable, though, is that it isn’t actually true in practice. If it gets hot enough the frog will eventually get fed up and jump out of the pot. The same may be true for billions of people across the globe who, from an economic standpoint, are being slowly boiled alive.

While we’ll likely continue to see headlines about the threat of COVID-19 dominating the news cycle over the next few weeks, investors would be wise to focus on a much more significant global menace: an overbearing system of control that is rapidly plunging the world into an economic depression. The question is whether or not we decide to hop out before or after the water starts to boil.

Until next time,

  JS Sig

Jason Stutman

follow basic @JasonStutman on Twitter

Jason Stutman is Wealth Daily's senior technology analyst and editor of investment advisory newsletters Technology and Opportunity and Topline Trader. His strategy for building winning portfolios is simple: Buy the disruptor, sell the disrupted.

Covering the broad sector of technology and occasionally dabbling in the political sphere, Jason has written hundreds of articles spanning topics from consumer electronics and development stage biotechnology to political forecasting and social commentary.

Outside the office Jason is a lover of science fiction and the outdoors. He writes through the lens of a futurist, free market advocate, and fiscal conservative. Jason currently hails from Baltimore, Maryland, with roots in the great state of New York.

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