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Lockdown legacy 'trampling' on hard-won freedom, damaging far too many lives

By Bhaskaran Raman* 

On 6th August, even as the world remembered the horror of the first atomic bomb, there were some who argued that the bomb saved lives. Likewise, many have argued, some even recently, that Covid-19 lockdowns saved lives. Both notions are equally far from the truth. Unfortunately, the disastrous aftermath of the unprecedented lockdowns are only starting to come out. Also unfortunately, many people still think that Covid-19 lockdowns saved lives. 
That is why we still have lockdowns, such as:
  1. 23 Aug 2023, Delhi (India), G20 summit: Delhi to be shut for 3 days, what all will be affected
  2. 25 Aug 2023, Kentucky/Texas (USA), School districts in Kentucky, Texas cancel classes amid 'surge' of illnesses including COVID
  3. 12 Aug 2023, San Francisco (USA), Hundreds of government employees in San Francisco told to work from home due to the high levels of crime in the area, report says
  4. 24 Jul 2023, Arunachal Pradesh (India), Administration order closure of schools following outbreak of conjunctivitis
Lockdowns represented the suspension of our fundamental rights: right to honest livelihood, right to education, and other such basic rights which were hard-won by our freedom fighters. As we celebrated our 77th Independence Day recently, it would be appropriate to remember lockdowns, the polar opposite of freedom, and reflect: did lockdowns save any lives at all?

All-cost and no-benefit

In its report released on 4th August 2023, Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan finds that barely 20% of the children enrolled in the sampled schools in Bihar were attending. Half the schools reported that most children in classes 3 to 5 had forgotten to read and write due to the nearly two-years of school shutdown. 
Given this gargantuan gap, the absence of children from school is unsurprising. How will these children fare when they grow up? How will they seek healthcare amid poverty? How will their children fare? Was lockdown beneficial or harmful for them?
In another study, of over 8,000 families across 78 countries, published in late July 2023, researchers documented the increased anxiety felt by children with neurodevelopmental conditions and their parents since 2020. The children’s anxiety was attributed to “concerns about loss of routine, family conflict, and safety in general, as well as concerns about COVID-19”. In other words, in various ways, lockdowns deeply negatively affected the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.
Such reports and studies barely scratch the surface of the effects of lockdowns, especially on children and young people. But were lockdowns a “necessary evil”? To answer this, we need to examine if the above anxiety and concerns among children and parents were driven by the SARS-Cov-2 virus and its toll. Let us look at some data toward answering this. The EuroMOMO website (https://euromomo.eu/) maintains mortality statistics from 27 European countries.
I invite the reader to spend just a few minutes looking at the age-group wise excess mortality graphs there, and observe that for the 0-14 years (children) age-group as well as the 15-44 years (parents of children) age-group, the excess deaths so far in 2023 are more than in 2020. In fact, for children, the excess mortality in 2023 so far is the maximum in the last 7 years, and for the parents-of-children age-group, it is near maximum.
Surely, despite these excess deaths, whatever be the cause, there is no concern among the population now in 2023, far less any panic or anxiety seen in 2020. Therefore it stands to reason that Covid-19 concern in this age-group in 2020 or 2021 was not based on actual deaths which were happening. And thus the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were all-cost and no-benefit for this age-group.

Did lockdowns save the elderly?

But did lockdowns save the lives of older people? Did the lack of lockdown cost lives? To answer this, it is worth looking at data from Sweden, the main western country which did not impose a lockdown. A look at yearly per-capita mortality shows that even in no-lockdown Sweden, the 2020 death rate was comparable to the 2015 death rate. 
Indeed, the 3-month death rate in the deadliest 3-months of Covid-19, April-June 2020, was lower than the 2015 winter period of January-March. In other words, the lack of lockdown did not cost lives in Sweden, any more than the 2015 winter.
On the other hand, countries like Singapore and Australia, which were the global poster-boys of lockdown in 2020, have had huge excess deaths in 2022, at levels not seen since World-War-2. So one has to ask: what role do the long-term effects of the harsh lockdowns, societal disruption, healthcare disruption, and increased poverty have to play, in such huge excess deaths?
Per-capita Covid-19 toll in Mumbai slums, including in the world's densest Dharavi, was three times less than in the non-slums
Available data from India too readily contradicts the notion that lockdowns saved lives from Covid-19. According to official Mumbai data, the per-capita Covid-19 toll in slums was three times less than in non-slums. Dharavi, one of the densest places on earth, with meagre health facilities, did not even suffer a second-wave of note. This is at odds with the “lockdowns saved lives” narrative, as lockdowns only increase inter-personal contact in slums. But despite this increased inter-personal contact, slums fared far better.
Indeed, various methodical studies have concluded that lockdowns did not save many lives even from the limited perspective of Covid-19 alone. An example is the literature review of various lockdown impact studies from Johns Hopkins University (January 2022), which found that lockdowns reduced Covid-19 mortality by a meagre 0.2% in Europe and the United States.

Unanswered call for debate

Although lockdowns were sold as “scientific”, the naked truth is that the measures had no basis in science at all. Available data and evidence from around the world points to lockdowns only worsening people’s lives. The risk of Covid-19 itself was increased by lockdown, due to worsening of major co-morbidities like diabetes, obesity for some, starvation for many, vitamin-D deficiency, and increased anxiety.
Indeed, a moment of rational thought in enough to realize that lockdowns cannot contain a respiratory virus which spreads via sub-micron-sized airborne aerosols. Humans can control airborne aerosol spread no more than they can control gravity or tidal waves or the monsoon.
Debate is the method of science. I issued a call for a scientific debate to hundreds of fellow scientists and academicians, on 12th October 2020, on the topic of lockdowns. The call remains open and unanswered to this day, as a testimony to the lack of scientific method behind lockdowns. Lockdowns are thus not only ethically bankrupt, but also intellectually bankrupt.
Neither lockdowns nor the atomic bomb saved any lives, but cost far too many lives. Neither must repeat, ever. Rhetorically as well as literally, lockdowns were the exact opposite of our freedom struggle:
Freedom fighters sacrificed their own lives, to secure fundamental rights for children
Lockdown proponents sacrificed the fundamental rights of children, to ostensibly secure their own lives.
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*Professor at IIT Bombay; views are personal. He has authored the book “Math Murder in Media Manufactured Madness”, presenting simple math to illustrate various absurdities related to the mainstream Covid-19 narrative; available at: https://bhaskaranraman.in/

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