Stripping people of their freedoms and forcing the public into lockdowns during the pandemic had zero impact in controlling Covid, a major new study has found.
A new Oxford University-backed study determined that Covid lockdowns made no difference to the outcome of the pandemic.
The researchers found that the results would have been the same if governments allowed people to make their own decisions about protecting themselves and their family members from the virus.
Researchers modeled virus deaths and unemployment rates in response to different pandemic policies.
Results showed imposing blanket shutdowns, which forced people to stay home and closed essential shops, lowered recorded cases of the virus.
However, leaving people to adapt their own behavior was just as effective, data revealed.
Published in the peer-reviewed Nature Human Behaviour Journal, the study was conducted by Oxford University‘s Institute of New Economic Thinking.
The study specifically highlighted Sweden’s controversial approach during the pandemic.
In Sweden, members of the public were left to make their own decisions about travel, vaccines, school and work attendance, mask use, and other precautions.
The government didn’t enforce any restrictions such as lockdowns or issue any mandates and only offered advice to the public.
Experts concluded that both policies led to “similar trade-offs” for people’s health and the economy.
According to the study, however, both approaches still triggered huge job losses.
While Sweden’s economy didn’t shut down due to lockdowns, many of the nation’s industries were still hit by global lockdowns and resulting shortages and delays.
The researchers asserted that strict non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) — lockdowns, social distancing, and face masks — did play a role in reducing the spread of Covid.
However, they noted that leaving individuals to change their behavior of their own accord, such as by minimizing contacts and less frequent trips to shops or restaurants, would have had the same results.
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 behavior.
The model then estimated how many infections occurred as a result, as well as which occupation, income, and age group were most affected.
The results showed that both strict lockdowns and high rates of behavior change led to a rise in unemployment and fewer Covid deaths.
For example, if lockdowns were imposed, virus deaths fell 35 percent while unemployment jumped 64 percent.
In comparison, if people were left to their own devices in a “high fear” situation, deaths fell by 50 percent, while job losses increased by 40 percent.
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 behavior.
“Both substantial behavioral changes and stringent closures lead to similar patterns of rising unemployment and fewer infections,” the researchers wrote.
The study found that this trend still stands, even if older people make bigger changes to their behavior 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 behavioral adaptation would yield similar results,” the researchers added.
The study also found that forcing the closure of sectors that aren’t people-facing, such as construction and manufacturing, did more harm than good.
The researchers found that these types of closures trigger 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 behavior “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 U.S. 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 to make tough decisions, they said.
Professor Doyne Farmer, director of the complexity economics program at Oxford University‘s Institute of New Economic Thinking, said the paper is “timely” given the ongoing Covid inquiries around the world.
“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,” Professor Farmer said.
“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,” Farmer said
“Our quantitative research helps provide evidence-based answers to these questions, suggesting that both lockdowns and spontaneous behavior 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.”
In early 2020, states across America and countries around the world told citizens to “stay at home.”
These lockdowns saw schools, stores, businesses, and hospitality close.
Health officials and government “experts” largely accepted that the economically-crippling measures were vital to control the spread of the virus
But other epidemiologists and public health scientists shared “grave concerns” about the collateral damages of such policies on society in the 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-19.
Authorities advised residents to practice social distancing and take measures to protect the vulnerable.
However, schools, bars, and restaurants remained open and it never required people to wear masks.
Masks were only recommended on public transport during the second wave but never mandated.
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.
However, time has proven the nation’s approach was a success.
While Sweden suffered economic losses during the pandemic, it was mainly caused by other nations locking down their populations.
Nevertheless, the country’s economy was far stronger than all other EU nations during the pandemic.
While Europe plunged into a deep recession, Sweden did not.
These benefits did not come at the expense of human health, however.
Remarkably, total excess deaths were smaller in Sweden than in any other European country during the three pandemic years (2020–2022).
Sweden’s excess death rate was also less than half of America’s.