Vaccinations are happening, and lockdowns will finally end. Politicians, and supportive media, will tell us that their lockdown policies saved us. The public will be praised for enduring all of the hardships, including school and business closures, an almost complete surrender of civil liberties, and emptying the treasury to pay healthy people to stay in their homes. The precedent will have been set: lockdowns work. When the next virus comes along, do it all again.
But before accepting that claim, should we not take a close look at others who did things differently?
Sweden is best known. Critics note that Sweden’s death rate was higher than that of nearby Norway. That criticism is valid because Sweden – like us – failed to properly protect nursing home residents. That said, Sweden has a death rate lower than Québec’s, and roughly the European average. It never closed schools, destroyed small businesses, or disrespected citizens with arbitrary, restrictive regulations. Sweden’s hospital system stood up, and they did not devastate their economy as we did. Closing schools never made sense, as children seldom get sick with this virus, and are not significant spreaders.
Comparing Sweden to its European neighbours is also useful. As mentioned, Norway protected its nursing home population better than Sweden. On the other hand, Sweden’s non-closure of schools went without significant problems. Norway and other European nations learned from Sweden’s example and quickly re-opened their schools in spring. We didn’t learn and kept ours closed.
Evidence that lockdowns were unnecessary can also be found from studying other countries. Belarus is an odd example. Its old-style communist leader made fun of the virus, calling it “coronapsychosis” and took virtually no steps to deal with it. This was surely irresponsible, and yet Belarus has emerged from the pandemic no worse off than European neighbours who resorted to draconian lockdown measures.
Closer to home, look at South Dakota. It never closed schools or businesses, and it has a death rate at roughly the American average, but without all of the economic and social damage resulting from the closures that have done immense damage here. (We crushed small businesses). They also avoided the extra deaths – untreated health problems, overdoses, suicides – that come with lockdowns.
Or compare a lockdown state like New York with non-lockdown Texas. New York has more deaths, plus a shattered economy. Texas is open for business.
Compare the freedom of non-lockdown Florida with the misery of lockdown California.
Those that did best protected the elderly. Ways were found to keep infected people away from nursing home residents. Meanwhile, Canada still has nursing homes with more than one resident per room – where workers come and go each day. Nursing homes were the one institution we should have tightly locked down. Instead of spending massive amounts on income replacement, more money should have been spent on nursing homes, and buttressing our hospital system.
Nations that did best also kept legislation to a minimum, gave citizens honest information – that risk of dying for the healthy was very low – and left health decisions to the individual. Citizens reacted accordingly, most practising social distancing according to their age and health status. We did the opposite. Excessive legislation criminalized half the population.
Did quarantining the healthy, while failing to properly protect the most vulnerable, ever make sense?
David Redman was former head of Emergency Management Alberta. Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.