The Fickle ‘Science’ of Lockdowns

Follow the science” has been the battle cry of lockdown supporters since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Yet before March 2020, the mainstream scientific community, including the World Health Organization, strongly opposed lockdowns and similar measures against infectious disease.


That judgment came from historical analysis of pandemics and an awareness that society-wide restrictions have severe socioeconomic costs and almost entirely speculative benefits. Our pandemic response, premised on lockdowns and closely related “non-pharmaceutical interventions” or NPIs, represented an unprecedented and unjustified shift in scientific opinion from where it stood a few months before the discovery of Covid-19.

In March 2019 WHO held a conference in Hong Kong to consider NPI measures against pandemic influenza. The WHO team evaluated a quarantine proposal—“home confinement of non-ill contacts of a person with proven or suspected influenza”—less indiscriminate than the Covid lockdowns. They called attention to the paucity of data to support this policy, noting that “most of the currently available evidence on the
effectiveness of quarantine on influenza control was drawn from simulation studies, which have a low strength of evidence.” The WHO team declared that large-scale home quarantine was “not recommended because there is no obvious rationale for this measure.”

Author

  • Dr. Magness spent over a decade teaching public policy, economics, and international trade at institutions including American University, George Mason University, and Berry College. Magness’s work encompasses the economic history of the United States and Atlantic world, with specializations in the economic dimensions of slavery and racial discrimination, the history of taxation, and measurements of economic inequality over time. He also maintains active research interest in higher education policy and the history of economic thought. In addition to his scholarship, Magness’s popular writings have appeared in numerous venues including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Newsweek, Politico, Reason, National Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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