How Fear, Groupthink Drove Unnecessary Global Lockdowns

Unnecessary, lethal and costly

In the face of a novel virus threat, China clamped down on its citizens. Academics used faulty information to build faulty models. Leaders relied on these faulty models. Dissenting views were suppressed. The media flamed fears and the world panicked.

That is the story of what may eventually be known as one of the biggest medical and economic blunders of all time. The collective failure of every Western nation, except one, to question groupthink will surely be studied by economists, doctors, and psychologists for decades to come.

To put things in perspective, the virus is now known to have an infection fatality rate for most people under 65 that is no more dangerous than driving 13 to 101 miles per day. Even by conservative estimates, the odds of COVID-19 death are roughly in line with existing baseline odds of dying in any given year.

Yet we put billions of young healthy people under house arrest, stopped cancer screenings, and sunk ourselves into the worst level of unemployment since the Great Depression. This from a virus that bears a survival rate of 99.99% if you are a healthy individual under 50 years old (12).

New York City reached over a 25% infection rate and yet 99.98% of all people in the city under 45 survived, making it comparable to death rates by normal accidents.

But of course the whole linchpin of the lockdown argument is that it would have been even worse without such a step. Sweden never closed down borders, primary schools, restaurants, or businesses, and never mandated masks, yet 99.998% of all their people under 60 have survived and their hospitals were never overburdened.

Why did we lock down the majority of the population who were never at significant risk? What will be the collateral damage? That is what this series will explore.

Experts took a measured approach early on

In early February the World Health Organization said that travel bans were not necessary. On Feb. 17, just a month before the first U.S. lockdown, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that this new strain of coronavirus possessed “just minuscule” danger to the United States. In early March the U.S. surgeon general said that “masks are NOT effective in preventing [the] general public from catching coronavirus.” As late as March 9, the day Italy started its lockdown, Dr. Fauci did not encourage cancellation of “large gatherings in a place [even if] you have community spread,” calling it “a judgment call.” NBA games were still being played.

So how did we go from such a measured tone to locking up 97% of Americans in their homes seemingly overnight?

Enter faulty assumptions and faulty models

China concealed the extent of the viral outbreak [or more likely wasn’t aware of it], which, if you believed its data, led many scientists to believe that 2% to 5% of all infected patients would die. This turned out to be off by a factor of 10, but academic epidemiologists have a history of wildly-off-the-mark doomsday predictions.

The March 16 report by Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson is credited (or blamed) with causing the U.K. to lock down and contributing to the domino effect of global lockdowns. The model has since come under intense criticism for being “totally unreliable and a buggy mess.”

This is the same Neil Ferguson who in 2005 predicted 200 million could die from the bird flu. Total deaths over the last 15 years turned out to be 455. This is the same Neil Ferguson who in 2009 predicted that 65,000 people could die in the U.K. from the swine flu. The final number ended up around 392. Now, in 2020, he predicted that 500,000 British would die from coronavirus.

His  deeply flawed model led the United States to fear over 2 million deaths and was used to justify locking down nearly the entire nation. Dr. Ferguson is a character of Shakespearean drama and tragedy. His March 17 presentation to British elites on the dire need to take action ironically may have infected Boris Johnson and other top British officials, as Mr. Ferguson himself tested positive for COVID-19 two days later. Then in May he resigned in disgrace after he broke his own quarantine rules to meet clandestinely with a married woman.

But I don’t place most of the blame on people like Ferguson. If you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. I blame government leaders for failing to surround themselves with diverse viewpoints and to think critically for themselves.

Politicians claim lockdowns were the cause of fewer deaths

It would be highly embarrassing to force citizens to quarantine themselves only to later admit it was all a colossal blunder, so it is easier for politicians and modelers to claim the lower death rates were based on the lockdowns themselves. It was a success!

But several inconvenient thorns keep bursting that narrative — and none larger than Sweden,  the only Western country not to lock down its citizens. Sweden never closed borders, restaurants, businesses, or primary schools. The only legal action officials took was to ban events that entail crowds larger than 50 people.

One of the most well-known and respected models in the United States is from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and is commonly cited by the White House. Since the IHME model accounts for lockdowns and social distancing, or lack thereof, they should be validated by their predictions on Sweden.

Below is a screenshot of the IHME model for Sweden taken on May 3, along with actual results (black line). The model predicted up to 2,800 daily deaths within 11 days and a final death total as high as 75,000 if Sweden didn’t enact strict social distancing measures.

These were not complicated long-term projections; they were predicting what would happen in the next two weeks based on months of data. Yet the daily death peak was 75% lower than the baseline prediction and 96% lower than the worst-case prediction.

Not to be outdone, Uppsala University (the oldest university in Sweden) also presented a model that could have caused the Swedes to abandon course and lock down as the U.K. did. However, Sweden did not buckle. While the Uppsala University model predicted 90,000 deaths within a month, the actual result was around 3,500.

Besides deaths, there were also doomsday projections about hospital capacity, but those models also proved to be grotesquely exaggerated. On March 29, Columbia University projected a need for 136,000 hospital beds in New York City. The maximum ever used was under 12,000. At peak, New York City still had around 1 in 6 hospital beds open and around 1 in 10 ICU beds open. Hospitals had capacity, both in New York City and in Sweden.

While far below projections, Sweden’s short-term results are worse than Norway, Finland, and Denmark, but better than the U.K., France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Sweden likely also benefits from longer-term herd immunity, faster economic recovery, and fewer deaths from lockdown collateral damage.

Political leaders ignored early evidence when it conflicted with their models

There are those who say that we couldn’t have known these outcomes early on, so even if lockdowns were unjustified later they were still necessary early due to lack of information. That is plainly false. Italy’s alarming number of deaths fanned many of the early fears across the world, but by March 17 it was clear that the median age of Italian deaths was over 80 and that not a single person under 30 had died in that country. Furthermore, it was known that 99% of those who died had other existing illnesses.

A much more rational strategy would have been to lock down nursing homes and let young healthy people out to build immunity. Instead we did the opposite, we forced nursing homes to take COVID-19 patients and locked down young people. 

There are now places like Santa Clara County in California, entering its third month of lockdown despite COVID-19 patients occupying less than 2% of hospital capacity and none on ventilators. Yet there are 2 million county residents effectively under house arrest. Some doctors and nurses in the area had their pay cut by 20% so hospitals could avoid bankruptcy, reflecting perhaps the epitome of this senseless catastrophe.

There were, of course, people warning us all along. Among them was as John P.A. Ioannidis of Stanford University School of Medicine, who ranks among the world’s 100 most-cited scientists on Google Scholar. On that pivotal day of March 17 he released an essay titled “Afiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data” — but it got little attention. [But blew the mind of your editor and received plenty of immediate attention at Anti-Empire.] Mainstream media was not interested in good news stories or dissenting views. The world instead marched lock step into its man-made calamity.

Source: Real Clear Politics

  1. Wiley Coyote says

    The “COVID-19” virus is just a ‘win-win-win’ for the “Deep State”, isn’t it? It destroys the booming economy that Donald Trump was planning to run for election on, it prevents Donald Trump from holding 50,000 person pep rallies prior to the election, and it enables the promotion of “mail-in voting” instead of “in-person” voting, virtually guaranteeing that Democrats will cheat like crazy during the election even worse than usual, which is really saying something. If you thought that 2016 resulted in a “contested election”, just wait until November of 2020.

  2. Rowdy-Yates says

    The Italian Parliament accused Bill Gates of committing “Crimes Against Humanity” stating the following was said:

    Billionaire “philanthropist” and population-control zealot Bill Gates is a criminal madman who must be arrested and tried for “crimes against humanity” and attempted “genocide” through vaccines, according to a firebrand Italian lawmaker who sent shock waves around the world…….In the impassioned speech on the floor of Italy’s Parliament exposing the Microsoft founder, the parliamentarian, Sara Cunial of Veneto, charged Gates with a long list of crimes, many involving his obsession with vaccinations and population reduction……A key part of the impassioned plea revolved around Gates’ support for forcing mandatory vaccines on all of humanity.

    In recent weeks, Gates has repeatedly declared on multiple television programs in the United States that the world could not go back to normal unless and until virtually everybody on the planet had been vaccinated with an as-yet undeveloped, experimental vaccine.

    In particular, MP Cunial slammed Gates-funded vaccine schemes that she said had “sterilized millions of women in African” and paralyzed about 500,000 children in India

    Bill and Melinda Gates are the voice of WHO and have pushed for this shutdown, social distancing and masks. They are also pushing for mandatory vaccinations

    1. sabelmouse says

      but why people……. wilhelm reich.

  3. Hail says

    (fontinued from above)

    With new deaths declining, Sweden might lose 0.05% of population dying while positive for coronavirus, but most of those are deaths of those already dying (half alone are nursing homes patients). Total population loss will be negligible, considering normal mortality is 0.9%/year there.

    See here:

    The thing about the Swedish numbers is, we knew from the beginning this would not be bad. Butthe pro-Panic side could always say, “It’s better to be safe; you don’t know for sure.”

    Then we knew with 100% certainty from observed data by at latest mid-April that there was no mass death scenario (this via observed data) when deaths started leveling off there. By this time, it was too late. The Corona Cult had seized power and was state religion

    1. sabelmouse says

      most or all were already dying everywhere. except for those who are murdered under this agenda, old people, and poc.

  4. CoCoLuv9491 says

    Yes!!! Finally a cutting, well-reasoned article on Anti-Empire, supported by sound statistics and compelling analysis, that debunks the propaganda spouted by so many faux leftists on this website. After this splash of cold water snaps you back to reality, read this little bit of caustic wit by CJ Hopkins:

    Though it is rapidly dwindling, I still hole hope that leftists will awaken from their corporate media-induced panic disorder, and start opposing authoritarianism again. But I’m not holding my breath…

    1. sabelmouse says

      and here one thought that that cohort thought.

  5. Mensch59 says

    Very good article — correction, excellent article — by Yinon Weiss. The conservatives at Real Clear Politics are on the ball regarding Covid (even though there are plenty of conservatives there who sadly reject the science of anthropogenic global warming & anthropogenic climate change), while the liberals and the illiberal leftists have dropped the ball. Some leftists still seem to have their heads screwed on straight, i.e. they don’t attack conservatives when conservatives have the facts.

    1. CoCoLuv9491 says

      This is a very good point. The partisan divide in this country, courtesy our despicable corporate media’s non-stop promotion of political food-fighting, keeps most people suspicious of anyone who doesn’t fit into their ideological box.

      How many times have you and I been accused of being “Trumpers,” or “Right-Wing Libertarians,” or even “Nazis” because we dare to question the mainstream narrative about COVID? I got the same pushback, even from purported leftists, for questioning the now thoroughly debunked Russiagate ruse. How many so-called leftists look down their noses at folks who voted for Trump without taking time to understand why they did so?

      How can you ever build solidarity if everyone who isn’t in lockstep with you on all issues is “deplorable?”

      1. Mensch59 says

        How many so-called leftists look down their noses at folks who voted for Trump without taking time to understand why they did so?

        As I posted elsewhere, it seems as if both leftists and rightists are overcome by the same bias, i.e. the cognitive bias of illusory superiority. Neither side of the spectrum wants to understand the other side. No empathy. Not even the attempt to validate while holding disagreement in check.

        How can you ever build solidarity if everyone who isn’t in lockstep with you on all issues is “deplorable?”

        Solidarity is a slogan. It’s not a social phenomenon. Sadly.

      2. Collectivist says

        Who said you were deplorable?
        Not I.

        1. CoCoLuv9491 says

          I didn’t say you called me deplorable.

          But what do you think about Trump voters?

          1. Collectivist says

            Afaics & afaik, it’s a mixed bag, all held together (so far), primarily by fear, xenophobia, and willful ignorance.
            It’s a longstanding American tradition.

            Like most historical proto-fascist tendencies I’ve studied, It’s real material class base is mostly small capitalists . . .with the BIG money coming from the fossil fuel, banking, housing and financial interests, and rightwing radio, among other places.

            A significant swathe of Trump’s base, consists of those with a justifiable disdain for the DNC-brand of neoliberalism. (If there is any point of ‘agreement’ I have with them, It’s there.)

            Paul Street’s analysis, posted a few years ago on Truthdig, CounterPunch and other places ago, sums it up best . . .in my humble opinion😎:

            “. . .What’s the resilience and robustness of Trump’s base all about? It’ reflects a combination of at least eight overlapping and interrelated, mutually reinforcing factors. One is that Trump’s virulent white nationalism resonates with a significant part of the white populace. The Caucasian “heartland” has for many decades been hearing that Black welfare cheats, job-stealing Latino immigrants, and criminal Black and Latino gangbangers have been sucking the nation dry, demoralizing its values, and degrading its ethnic purity with the help of fancy big city and bi-coastal middle- and upper-class liberals and leftists.

            It’s nothing new, really. Nativism, racism, and suspicion of posh city folk have rich roots in U.S. and indeed Western history, going back to the birth of the republic and before. They are as White-American as the Know Nothing Party, Lawrence Welk, Rush Limbaugh. apple pie, and gun violence. Russia has nothing to do with it, by the way.

            A second factor is that a significant part of the white electorate is every bit as ignorant, stupid, unreflective, selfish, vile, and anti-intellectual as the president. The relentless stupefying power of the American mass media has combined with the under-funding and dumbing down of public education and the ubiquity of brain-wrecking fast-food diets to spawn millions of brutish white U.S.-American dolts who revel in the existence of a POTUS as thoughtless, oblivious, ill-informed, uncurious, cruel, and tactless as them. Trump’s presidency shows that you can be an abject moral and intellectual idiot and still succeed.

            (Trump reminds me of all the vicious white business and marketing majors whose horrific undergraduate history examinations I used to grade at Northern Illinois University back in the 1990s. They were outraged at the notion that they might have to read a book from beginning to end. It was a miracle when one or two of them could be persuaded to pay any attention to the experiences of Black slaves tortured in the antebellum South or Indochinese peasants bombed by the U.S. military in the 1960s. These are the people who fill the seats at the proto-fascistic Jerry Springer show, chanting “Jerry, Jerry” while desperately poor people of color are pitted against each other onstage. Trump, like Jerry Springer, validates their racism, their pride in ignorance and stupidity, and their faith in their own superiority to the disproportionately Black and brown poor.)

            Third, Trump symbolizes and expresses many Americans’ often understandable disgust with and disrespect for the professional-class and its meritocratic ideology. So what if Trump is a filthy rich billionaire who was born into a wealthy family and grew up to become a draft-dodging playboy who ruthlessly cheated his workers, customers, and wives – and who mocks his own children in savage terms? Hey, at least he’s not one of those snotty professional and managerial class know-it-all types who boasts of their multiculturalism, their high-priced natural foods, their vegetarian diets, their hot yoga classes, their advanced mindfulness, their recycling systems, their world travels, their enlightened tolerance, their advanced degrees, and the elite universities their children attend.

            Trump is a way for people who hated school to stick it to those nasty, over-educated, backstabbing, stuck-up managers, professionals, teachers, and bureaucrats, who regularly lord it over everyday people. Trump hates school, books, professors, intellectuals, scientists, and other boring, candy-ass, know-it-all big shots losers too! He did it his way and figured out how to make all those fancy fuckers work for him! Think of the bumper sticker that reads “My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student!”

            Fourth, Fox News, right-wing talk radio, Breitbart and other white and right media outlets have become an inbred right-wing media universe that makes it possible for millions of white Americans to go through life with the political information they receive cordoned off from anything does not fit the hard-starboard narrative. Negative Trump stories are reflexively dismissed as “fake news” in FOXNewsWorld. Throw in so-called social media, where people form “friendship” networks and share news items and opinions limited to their own partisan identity and you have the making of separate informational ecosphere where 2+2=5 and Love is Hate because Big Brothers Trump, Hannity, Bannon, and Limbaugh et al. say so. (The Democratic and “liberal” wings of the mass media have their own versions of the same thing – don’t get me wrong. You can see this on Russia-obsessed MSNBC/MSDNC, for example).. . .”


            1. CoCoLuv9491 says

              Pretty good column from Street. I used to consume him religiously until he went all Trump-deranged, and starting shilling for LOTE.

              I grew up in a Republican household, in a Republican stronghold of the country. Some conservatives are inherently racist, many are not. But when they get a raw deal from the government, and their standard of living falls off a cliff, they are susceptible to scapegoating arguments from right-wing demagogues. “The Democrats care more about minorities than they do about you (the white working class).” And this sticks because it is actually true. Not that Democrats really care about minorities; they care about corralling their votes. They actually don’t give a sh*t about the welfare of working class folks, whatever their color.

              I believe the biggest reason Trump won his party’s nomination, and eventually the presidency, is because he campaigned as an outsider that was gonna stick it to the establishment (also, the Republicans have fairer primaries than the Democrats). Now we all know that was a con, and, just like Obama, he stocked his cabinet with insiders, Wall Street execs, and Security State actors. People are so f*cking sick of the establishment that they would vote for a narcissistic, bloviating, boorish, reality show host over established politicians. That says to me that people in the country are distrustful of the government, fed-up with the status quo, and desperate for something different.

              I think there is common ground to be made with many Trump voters, based on that analysis. When leftists dismiss the right as all racist, ignorant, intolerant a$$holes, they continue to sow the seeds of division, which ultimately keeps the ruling class safe, secure, and in control.

            2. Collectivist says

              Worth repeating:

              “Some conservatives are inherently racist, many are not. But when they get a raw deal from the government, and their standard of living falls off a cliff, they are susceptible to scapegoating arguments from right-wing demagogues.”

            3. Elizabeth Hayes says

              I’d upvote this a thousand times if I could.

  6. Ronnie&MargaretInDementia says

    As has been the case so many times in the last few years it was the press that started it all. Panicked reaction, stoking fear and forcing politicians hands before they even knew what was happening. It says much though about the dire standard of many of our politicians that instead of leading with a firm hand on the tiller, they too panicked. The virus has been with us 6 months now and we’re just about approaching an average flu seasons worth of deaths worldwide. Having said that if the resultant economic crash finishes off neoliberalism it will have been worth it, although it will come at great cost.

    1. sabelmouse says

      those have vested intertests.

    2. CoCoLuv9491 says

      How will the economic crash finish off neoliberalism? The neoliberals will be the ones to survive, even thrive, through any depression. In order for neoliberalism to go away, or even be reformed, the Congress would have to take an FDR-approach to the situation. There is zero evidence that will ever happen.

      I suppose if workers become destitute and desperate enough they could take to the streets en masse. They would in France. In the US… I have my doubts. Everyone is anesthetized by electronic devices, and brainwashed by the non-stop bombardment of propaganda from the media.

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