When Alex Berenson, the former New York Times reporter, said that people will look back on the coronavirus lockdown as a “colossal mistake,” many scoffed. But with each passing day, as the failures of government at every level become clearer, Berenson and other COVID skeptics look increasingly perceptive. The governmental cure was worse than the disease.
“What I think is that people took a very, very aggressive action a month ago without necessarily thinking through what the economic or societal consequences were going to be,” Berenson said to the press in April. “Now more and more evidence is coming out that we responded too harshly, that maybe we should have taken smaller steps and seen what happened before we went to the place we went. And it seems to me very, very hard, both for politicians and for the public health establishment, to acknowledge this and to walk us back in a reasonable way.”
The predictions about the virus were wildly wrong, said Berenson: “I’ve been watching this like a hawk and I’ve been watching the models, both the Imperial College and now more recently, the major U.S. model, which is the University of Washington model, fail on a daily basis, fail to predict what is happening now, what is going to happen in months or years or even in a week…. I think most scientists agree it is more dangerous than the flu, but it doesn’t seem to be 10 or 20 or 30 times as dangerous as the flu. It’s on the spectrum of the flu. That’s what the data is now suggesting.”
The sheer arbitrariness of the lockdown, during which pols, drunk on their new powers, deemed services essential or nonessential depending on their ideological preferences, has been punctuated by the riots and protests, where all the COVID rules suddenly disappeared. We see nanny-state liberals, formerly so censorious of clustered gatherings, marching arm and arm with Black Lives Matter.
The shutdown revolved around an irrational assessment of risk, one which failed to weigh the consequences of crushing an economy, distorting social life, and suppressing freedom. Other means, short of a total shutdown, could have protected the old and sick, but officious pols, determined to retain as much power as possible, dismissed those plans out of hand. These same pols, who postured about the danger of “losing even one life,” support abortion and euthanasia and kept the abortion clinics open during the shutdown while banning religious services.
The speed with which these pols turned into little dictators was astonishing, and puts one in mind of C. S. Lewis’s observation:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
It will take some time to assess the appalling damage the COVID tyrants have wrought. “In medical terms, the shutdown was a mass casualty incident,” wrote a group of 600 doctors to President Trump. “Suicide hotline phone calls have increased 600%. We are alarmed at what appears to be the lack of consideration for the future health of our patients. The downstream health effects of deteriorating a level are being massively under-estimated and under-reported. This is an order of magnitude error.” They continued, “The millions of casualties of a continued shutdown will be hiding in plain sight, but they will be called alcoholism, homelessness, suicide, heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. In youths it will be called financial instability, unemployment, despair, drug addiction, unplanned pregnancies, poverty, and abuse.”
A group of academics — Scott W. Atlas, John R. Birge, Ralph L Keeney, and Alexander Lipton — have argued that the shutdown has ruined far more lives than the virus:
The policies have created the greatest global economic disruption in history, with trillions of dollars of lost economic output. These financial losses have been falsely portrayed as purely economic. To the contrary, using numerous National Institutes of Health Public Access publications, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and various actuarial tables, we calculate that these policies will cause devastating non-economic consequences that will total millions of accumulated years of life lost in the United States, far beyond what the virus itself has caused.
The lost economic output in the U.S. alone is estimated to be 5 percent of GDP, or $1.1 trillion for every month of the economic shutdown. This lost income results in lost lives as the stresses of unemployment and providing basic needs increase the incidence of suicide, alcohol or drug abuse, and stress-induced illnesses. These effects are particularly severe on the lower-income populace, as they are more likely to lose their jobs, and mortality rates are much higher for lower-income individuals.
Statistically, every $10 million to $24 million lost in U.S. incomes results in one additional death. One portion of this effect is through unemployment, which leads to an average increase in mortality of at least 60 percent. That translates into 7,200 lives lost per month among the 36 million newly unemployed Americans, over 40 percent of whom are not expected to regain their jobs. In addition, many small business owners are near financial collapse, creating lost wealth that results in mortality increases of 50 percent. With an average estimate of one additional lost life per $17 million income loss, that would translate to 65,000 lives lost in the U.S. for each month because of the economic shutdown.
In addition to lives lost because of lost income, lives also are lost due to delayed or foregone health care imposed by the shutdown and the fear it creates among patients. From personal communications with neurosurgery colleagues, about half of their patients have not appeared for treatment of disease which, left untreated, risks brain hemorrhage, paralysis or death.
Epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski has argued that the shutdown only succeeded in prolonging the virus, and that the stated reason for the lockdown proved illusory:
When the whole thing started, there was one reason given for the lockdown and that was to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. There is no indication that hospitals could ever have become overloaded, irrespective of what we did. So we could open up again, and forget the whole thing.
I hope the intervention did not have too much of an impact because it most likely made the situation worse. The intervention was to ‘flatten the curve’. That means that there would be the same number of cases but spread out over a longer period of time, because otherwise the hospitals would not have enough capacity.
Now, as we know, children and young adults do not end up in hospitals. It is only those who are both elderly and have comorbidities that do. Therefore you have to protect the elderly and the nursing homes. The ideal approach would be to simply shut the door of the nursing homes and keep the personnel and the elderly locked in for a certain amount of time, and pay the staff overtime to stay there for 24 hours per day.
But no one in the political class, he observes, was willing to defy the groupthink that ruled out a more targeted and balanced approach to the virus:
Governments did not have an open discussion, including economists, biologists and epidemiologists, to hear different voices. In Britain, it was the voice of one person — Neil Ferguson — who has a history of coming up with projections that are a bit odd. The government did not convene a meeting with people who have different ideas, different projections, to discuss his projection. If it had done that, it could have seen where the fundamental flaw was in the so-called models used by Neil Ferguson. His paper was published eventually, in medRxiv. The assumption was that one per cent of all people who became infected would die. There is no justification anywhere for that.
It has taken the riots to expose the full hypocrisy of the pols who so eagerly robbed Americans of their freedom. These opportunistic pols were willing to suspend all their strictures once a politically correct cause arose sacred to them, thereby showing that all their “risk models” had no objectivity to them whatsoever. These are the same pols who suppressed religious freedom, dismissed the maintenance of the Bill of Rights as above their “pay grade,” and condemned utterly peaceful lockdown protests as perilous to the common good.
Berenson was right. Entrusting a decision as momentous as a national shutdown to power-mad pols whose ignorance is only exceeded by their ambition was a “colossal mistake.”