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NBER study indicates that lockdowns during the Covid pandemic were ineffective

By Murray Hunter - posted Thursday, 16 June 2022

A new study from the US based National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has corroborated earlier research undertaken by the John Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics that found through a meta-analysis, "lockdowns have little to no public health effects, (and) have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they were adopted."

The NBER research paper covering the calendar year 2021, authored by two eminent economists Casey B. Mulligan and Robert D. Arnott found that most deaths occurred in regions that imposed lockdowns, where at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) was mandated by government that directly restricted peoples' possibilities, such as limits on internal movement, closing of schools, and businesses, and bans on international travel, were due to other causes, including hypertension and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, drug-induced causes, and alcohol induced causes.

The US based study found that mortality from all causes during the pandemic were elevated 26% for working age adults (18-64), 18% for the elderly. There were essentially no aggregate excess deaths for children. Data on drug addiction, non-fatal shootings, weight gain, failure to have cancer screenings pointed to a new unacknowledged health emergency.


Nearly 170,000 excess deaths within the US during the Covid-19 pandemic were not caused by the virus itself. Other ailments and accidents spiked during the lockdowns imposed by authorities the study shows. 72,000 people died with Covid-19 but not because of it.

The report suggests that there was collateral damage from the lockdown policy, which were factors that were either not considered or given low weight during policy decision processes.

While governments gave daily case and death tallies during the pandemic, often without context, the study highlighted the failure of public health authorities to closely monitor whether lockdowns assisted in containing Covid-19 outbreaks or aggravated other health issues. Soaring death rates during the pandemic have not been explained to date. Deaths from other causes such as drug addiction, non-fatal shootings, weight gain, cancer, have not been properly acknowledged.

The study pointed to the Swedish situation where lockdowns and restrictions were minimised. Sweden's non-Covid death rates were below the baseline, indicating that minimizing disruption of citizen lifestyles actually assisted in saving lives.

In another research study by New Zealand economist Martin Tally in the Monash Bioethics Review, a cost-benefit analysis was made of the lockdowns in Australia. The study concluded that the Australian lockdowns do not seem to have been justified by reference to the standard benchmarks examined in the study.

The major lesson learnt from examining the effects of the lockdown along a number of public policy parameters indicates that many governments did not undertake cost-benefit analysis of imposing lockdowns upon the general population before imposing these measures.


The basic question of what would have been the deaths with restrictions verses without restrictions?, appears to have not been examined by public health officials. The question of what would be the collateral health effects from a lockdown?, equally appears to have not been examined. Finally, the question of what would be the financial effects to families and the aggregate economic effects of lockdowns?, also appears to have been neglected by Treasury.

There is a major failure of public policy on the lockdown issue. This needs to be addressed for the future.

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This article was first published on Murray Hunter's blog.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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