A Canadian infectious-disease specialist who initially supported the lockdowns in response to the coronavirus has changed his mind, concluding in his peer-reviewed study that the harm is 10 times worse than the benefits.
In an interview with the Toronto Sun, Dr. Ari Joffe explained that he supported the lockdowns after “initial false data” suggested the infection fatality rate was up to 2% or 3% and that more than 80% of the population would be infected.
“But emerging data showed that the median infection fatality rate is 0.23%, that the median infection fatality rate in people under 70 years old is 0.05%, and that the high-risk group is older people especially those with severe co-morbidities,” he said in the interview, published Jan. 9.
Joffe’s paper is titled “COVID-19: Rethinking the Lockdown Groupthink.” He’s a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, and a clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at University of Alberta.
Explaining further to the Toronto paper why he initially supported the lockdowns, Joffe noted he’s not trained to make public policy decisions.
“I was only considering the direct effects of COVID-19 and my knowledge of how to prevent these direct effects,” he said. “I was not considering the immense effects of the response to COVID-19 (that is, lockdowns) on public health and wellbeing.”
He listed the “staggering” amount of “collateral damage” due to the lockdowns.
- Food insecurity [82-132 million more people]
- Severe poverty [70 million more people]
- Maternal and under age-5 mortality from interrupted healthcare [1.7 million more people]
- Infectious diseases deaths from interrupted services [millions of people with tuberculosis, malaria and HIV]
- School closures for children [affecting children’s future earning potential and lifespan]
- Interrupted vaccination campaigns for millions of children, and “intimate partner violence” for millions of women.
“In high-income countries, adverse effects also occur from delayed and interrupted healthcare, unemployment, loneliness, deteriorating mental health, increased opioid crisis deaths, and more,” he told the Toronto newspaper.
He pointed out that government and public health experts did not conduct a formal cost-benefit analysis of various responses to the pandemic.
A full cost-benefit analysis was the aim of his study, and early in his research he realized that “framing decisions as between saving lives versus saving the economy is a false dichotomy.”
“There is a strong long-run relationship between economic recession and public health,” he explained. “This makes sense, as government spending on things like health care, education, roads, sanitation, housing, nutrition, vaccines, safety, social security nets, clean energy and other services determines the population well-being and life-expectancy.”
He said he also had underestimated the effects of loneliness and unemployment on public health.
“It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan and chronic diseases,” he told the Toronto paper.
He also took into consideration that “in making policy decisions there are trade-offs to consider, costs and benefits, and we have to choose between options that each have tragic outcomes in order to advocate for the least people to die as possible.”
“It turned out that the costs of lockdowns are at least 10 times higher than the benefits. That is, lockdowns cause far more harm to population wellbeing than COVID-19 can,” he told the Sun.
In contrast to Joffe, a top coronavirus adviser for Joe Biden was against lockdowns before he was for them. Michael T. Osterholm, a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, formerly advocated the “focused protection” strategy now promoted by epidemiologists at Stanford and Oxford advising Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: With a 99% survival rate for most, according to the Centers for Disease Control, let the healthy go about their business while protecting the vulnerable, the people over 70 with multiple life-threatening diseases.
Osterholm warned in a March 21 op-ed for the Washington Post of the high economic and social costs of “the near-draconian lockdowns” in effect at the time in China and Italy, which ultimately don’t reduce the number of cases. In November, however, he advocated a national lockdown of four to six weeks.
The CDC estimates a 99.997% survival rate for those from birth to age 19 who contract COVID-19. It’s 99.98% for ages 20-49, 99.5% for 50-69 and 94.6% for those over 70. Significantly, those who died of coronavirus, according to the CDC, had an average of 2.6 comorbidities, meaning more than two chronic diseases along with COVID-19. Overall, the CDC says, just 6% of the people counted as COVID-19 deaths died of COVID-19 alone.
Joffe said he now supports the “focused protection” approach in which “we aim to protect those truly at high-risk of COVID-19 mortality, including older people, especially those with severe co-morbidities and those in nursing homes and hospitals.”
In the interview with the Toronto Sun, he discussed the “contagion of fear” that guided policymakers, based on the initial false modelling and forecasting.
“Popular media focused on absolute numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths independent of context,” he said. “There has been a sheer one-sided focus on preventing infection numbers.”
Joffe cited economist Paul Frijters writing that it was “all about seeming to reduce risks of infection and deaths from this one particular disease, to the exclusion of all other health risks or other life concerns.”
“Fear and anxiety spread,” Joffe said, “and we elevated COVID-19 above everything else that could possibly matter.”
“Our cognitive biases prevented us from making optimal policy: we ignored hidden ‘statistical deaths’ reported at the population level; we preferred immediate benefits to even larger benefits in the future, we disregarded evidence that disproved our favorite theory, and escalated our commitment in the set course of action,” he said.
Joffe pointed out that in Canada in 2018, there were more than 23,000 deaths per month and more than 775 deaths per day.
On Nov. 21, for example, COVID-19 accounted for 5.23% of deaths in Canada and 3.06% of global deaths.
“Each day in non-pandemic years, over 21,000 people die from tobacco use, 3,600 from pneumonia and diarrhea in children under 5-years-old, and 4,110 from tuberculosis,” he noted. “We need to consider the tragic COVID-19 numbers in context.”
He called for taking an “effortful pause” to “reconsider the information available to us.”
“We need to calibrate our response to the true risk, make rational cost-benefit analyses of the trade-offs, and end the lockdown groupthink,” Joffe said.
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