Monday, November 20, 2023

Covid lockdowns were NO more effective than Swedish-style softer approach, major Oxford University-backed study suggests

Covid lockdowns were no more effective at controlling the pandemic than letting people adapt their own behaviour to the threat, a major Oxford University-backed study suggests.

Researchers modelled virus death and unemployment rates in response to different pandemic policies.

Results showed imposing blanket shutdowns, which forced people to stay home and closed essential shops, squashed fatality rates for the virus.

However, leaving people to adapt their own behaviour — similar to the controversial approach used in Sweden — was just as effective, data revealed.

Experts concluded that both policies led to 'similar trade-offs' for people's health and the economy, with both approaches triggering huge job losses.

The researchers said strict non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) — lockdowns, social distancing and face masks — were 'critical' to reducing the spread of Covid.

However, they noted that individuals changing their behaviour of their own accord — such as by minimising contacts and less frequent trips to shops or restaurants — could have also minimised deaths.

To determine the effects of both approaches, the researchers created an economic model based on the first wave of the pandemic.

They used data from around 416,000 people in New York City.

Researchers inputted a range of scenarios, including varying levels of restrictions and changes to behaviour.

The model then estimated how many infections occurred as a result, as well as which occupation, income and age group were most affected.

Results, published in the Nature Human Behaviour Journal, showed that both strict lockdowns and high rates of behaviour change led to a rise in unemployment and fewer Covid deaths.

For example, if lockdowns were imposed, virus deaths fell 35 per cent while unemployment jumped 64 per cent.

In comparison, if people were left to their own devices in a 'high fear' situation, deaths fell 50 per cent, while job losses increased by 40 per cent.

The team said this showed there is a 'similar trade-off between epidemic and economic outcomes' regardless of whether Covid restrictions are imposed or if people are left to change their behaviour.

'Both substantial behavioural changes and stringent closures lead to similar patterns of rising unemployment and fewer infections,' they wrote.

The researchers found that this trend still stands, even if older people make bigger changes to their behaviour than younger people.

'While it is intuitive to expect stricter mandated NPIs to increase unemployment and decrease Covid-19 deaths, it is less apparent that heightened behavioural adaptation would yield similar results,' the team added.

They also found that forcing the closure of sectors that aren't people-facing — such as construction and manufacturing — triggers a large spike in job losses with 'only a marginal decrease in fatalities'.

Additionally, bringing in pandemic restrictions late when people have already adapted their behaviour 'leads to a dual blow of increased deaths and unemployment'.

The researchers noted that their results are only based on data from one area of the US during the first lockdown and do not take testing, Covid variants or vaccination into account.

However, the findings address 'key policy debates' of the Covid pandemic and will enable future governments take tough decisions, they said.

Professor Doyne Farmer, director of the complexity economics programme at Oxford University's Institute of New Economic Thinking, said the paper is 'timely' given the ongoing Covid inquiries around the world.

He said: 'We are seeing governments across the globe begin their "moments of reckoning", reviewing the effectiveness of a great variety of policies brought in during Covid.

'According to some, lockdowns were not imposing any trade-off between health and the economy because, if the virus got out of control, the economy would be equally damaged.

'According to others, letting at-risk individuals spontaneously reduce their risk of infection would have led to the best epidemic and economic outcomes, with no trade-off.

'These debates have remained contested and unresolved.'

Professor Farmer said: 'Our quantitative research helps provide evidence-based answers to these questions, suggesting that both lockdowns and spontaneous behaviour change lead to similar trade-offs between health and the economy.

'Those that claimed that there was no trade-off between health and the economy were not basing their belief in a quantitative model.'

The UK imposed its first lockdown in March 2020, with then Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling the nation 'you must stay at home'.

It saw schools, shops and hospitality close, social distancing come into force and Brits only allowed to exercise outdoors once a day.

Experts largely accepted that the economically-crippling measures were vital to control the spread of the virus, as there was no vaccine to prevent severe illness and stunt hospital admissions at the time.

But other epidemiologists and public health scientists shared 'grave concerns' about the collateral damages of such policies on the NHS and other parts of society in future.

Sweden became an international outlier in 2020 when, instead of shutting down society, it relied on citizens' sense of civic duty to reduce the spread of Covid.

Authorities advised residents to practice social distancing, however schools, bars and restaurants remained open and it never required people to wear masks — they were only recommended on public transport during the second wave.

Among its stricter measures included a ban on visits to elderly care homes and limits on the number of people attending public gatherings.

The approach gave rise to a heated debate abroad, and was at times held up as a cautionary tale, or on the contrary, hailed by opponents of lockdowns.


Top doctor Nick Coatsworth delivers a brutal reality check for Aussies who still wear face masks

One of Australia's top doctors has issued a brutal message to those still wearing face masks - and hit out calls from the Australian Medical Association to bring back Covid masks.

Australia reported 6,550 new Covid cases last week. This surge has led health officials, including AMA Queensland president Maria Boulton, to advocate for the reinstatement of mask mandates in high-risk settings, such as on airplanes, in large crowds, and within medical facilities.

However, former Australian deputy chief health officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said Aussies shouldn't be overly concerned about the recent spike during an interview with 2GB'S Ben Fordham.

'The Australian Medical Association has quoted 245 hospitalisations of COVID-19 with this (current) wave in Queensland, but there are over a million admissions to Queensland hospitals every year,' he said. 'The suggestion that this is a wave is probably incorrect.'

He also believes reinstating mask mandates would have little impact. 'That's not going to make any difference at the moment,' Dr Coatsworth explained.

'If you say 'Look, wear masks in some situations but not others, don't socially distance and go about your business', then all the masks are doing is polluting the environment.' 'We need to be smarter about how we manage this.

He also slammed advice from scientists recommending 100,000 concertgoers to mask up when Coldplay performs in Perth this weekend. 'That's just a crazy thing to do,' he said.

'We got to remember just how infectious Omicron is. Just sticking a mask on at a Coldplay concert is unlikely to be protective.

'And number two, the vast majority of people have had Covid, even the people who claim they've never had it. The vast majority of people are also vaccinated.

'COVID-19 is now a milder disease because of what we call herd immunity, we have all been exposed to it. 'Our need to take a chill pill with Covid is getting even greater.'

Dr Coastworth isn't overly concerned about the latest spike but conceded it puts a strain on hospitals. 'The reason why health departments have put this out is because when we do get an increase in Covid or any respiratory virus, it does puts a strain on hospitals,' he said.

'I work in an hospital and you do see the strain but not because people are getting sick from Covid. 'Very few people are actually getting sick from Covid but it creates an infection control problem where you have to isolate the patients and it created bed pressure.

'But that's going to happen for the next 5-10 years with Covid and respiratory viruses and we have to find ways to cope with that.

'Frankly I was on shift yesterday and we had not a single patient with COVID-19 in our acute medical unit.

Dr Coatsworth emphasised that despite a minor increase in hospitalisations, there has been a decline in intensive care admissions from Covid.

'There's creative, innovative ways that will allow the community to get on with its business without constant talk of bringing back things that realistically, public health officials aren't going to bring back.'

Dr Coatsworth echoed the health advice to catch up outdoors where the risk of getting Covid is 'extraordinary difficult, if not impossible.' 'It's always been the right advice, I'm not sure why we didn't give it at the start of the pandemic,' he said. 'You would really have to be on top of someone to catch Covid outdoors.'

Meanwhile, infectious diseases specialist Professor Peter Collignon has made it clear he opposes people being forced by law to wear masks. 'If at increased risk, or concerned, yes wear a mask. But no mandates.'

Professor Collignon, who is a microbiologist at Canberra Hospital, said there was 'little or likely no point' wearing a mask outside.

He added that masks will give 'some short term protection' to those who are concerned about short term exposure indoors, but eye protection is also needed. 'What lands in your eyes goes into your nose,' the professor said.




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