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We are killing more people because of lockdown than we are saving

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 13 July 2020

While it's tempting, and even invigorating, to experience a shiver of schadenfreude at the resurgence of COVID-19 in Victoria on the watch of Australia's most punitive premier, you should let the sensation pass quickly.

The fact is COVID-19 is a feature of our lives now and we need to learn to live with it. Even if a vaccine is found, it is unlikely that it will be 100% effective, so, like the flu, it will be an ongoing risk in what is intrinsically a risky business – living.

For every Ruby Princess debacle in NSW, or the Stamford Plaza in Victoria, there will be others in every other state, unless economic winter is legislated forever with citizens in a state of semi-permanent hibernation.


The virus has been around for at least 7 months now, and we know so much more about it, which is why 30 of us signed an open letter to the PM and premiers calling for a change of policy, and suggesting a more sensible, flexible and effective policy framework.

We shouldn't repeat the same policy with each new outbreak just because that is the policy that we are most familiar with. There is no sense in giving primacy to precedents just because they are prior. If we did that in health matters we'd probably be bleeding patients and putting leeches on them to treat the virus rather than putting them on ventilators, or remdesivir (or even chloroquine). If we wouldn't do it in medicine, we shouldn't do it in public health.

One of the ironies of how we've approached COVID is that rather than adapt practices from countries with recent experience of epidemics, and governance systems similar to our own, like Korea, Singapore or Japan, the off-the-shelf methods we adopted came straight from the only communist hegemon in the world, China.

So instead of trusting our citizens to make their own choices we've imposed totalitarian, uniform straight-jackets, with ludicrous one-size-fits-all regulations. If you had any faith in central planning you should have lost it by now.

There was some sense in the lockdowns in the first place. The first academic work I saw out of reputable journals like the Lancet suggested this might be worse than the Spanish flu which killed 50 million out of a world population of 1.6 billion.

Pro-rata that would mean that 800,000 Australians might have died as a result and it seemed worthwhile to pause the world for a little until we understood the virus better.


Pretty soon it was apparent that this was not the case. The government predicted 50,000 to 150,000 deaths, based on epidemiological models, like the one at Imperial College London.

But sharper minds, like that of Professor John Ioannnidis at Stanford and Sunetra Gupta at Oxford, using actual data from the real world, like the Diamond Princess, predicted death rates more in line with a severe flu.

Amongst western countries, Sweden practiced the most adult approach, leaving decisions to its citizens. If you project Sweden onto Australia, then we might have had 13,550 fatalities by now.

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An edited version of this article was first published on The Spectator.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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