Unrealistic Predictions, COVID-19 Lockdown, Cost Lives

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On May 6, Shelley Luther, a Dallas hair salon owner who ran her salon despite her governor’s executive order, was sentenced to 7 days in prison and was fined $7,000. Shelley refused to apologize and said that she needed to run her salon so that she and her employees could feed their kids.

One could argue that Shelley was wrong in not complying. However, the lockdown scenario in the U.S. and all over the world is unprecedented. It’s driving people to desperate measures to keep their lives going.

Some key questions remain unanswered: Are the lockdown measures justified? Why is the death count from SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus) much lower than what was predicted?

Economy and Lives Impacted by Draconian Lockdown

Offices and businesses have been closed. Supply chains of various goods are in disorder. For example, workers at America’s biggest meat processing units have been infected with the virus, making it increasingly difficult for grocery stores to obtain meat for their customers. And millions of poor daily wage labourers in developing countries face abject poverty in the coming months.

Authorities in the U.S. issued checks to tax-paying citizens and their families. Similar monetary benefits were announced in Germany, the UK, Canada, and other countries. But while these handouts may bring some people immediate relief, they are not sustainable in the long-run.

The situation is even worse in developing countries, where the majority of the work force is in the unorganized sector and barely has access to government handouts. Most of these workers depend on their daily wage to buy groceries and pay their rent.

There have been hundreds of reports about families being thrown out of their houses for unpaid rent due to lockdowns. In some countries, poor people wait more than 8 hours in scorching heat to receive a bowl of food.

By now, most of us have experienced the discomfort of the lockdown in some way. But evidence suggests that major economies such as the UK and the U.S. were misled by incorrect assumptions about the coronavirus.

Fooled by Death Predictions from Models

Forecasts from a computer model developed at the Imperial College in London were used by nations—including the U.S.—to predict the death toll from COVID-19.

Deaths of huge magnitude were predicted, sending authorities into a panic mode in which they announced draconian lockdown measures.

Now appears that the Imperial College model was wrong in its predictions.

For example, the model predicted 40,000 deaths in Sweden by May 1 if the country did not implement lockdown.

Nonetheless, Sweden refused to implement a lockdown. On May 6, the country had around 23,000 positive cases and around 2,800 deaths. Clearly, the model was way off the mark and could not even be considered a serious academic model on which officials could rely in public policy decisions.

As of May 6, Sweden’s infection curve indicated that the country must have experienced its infection peak already and is moving towards a recovery phase—all without a lockdown.

The Sweden scenario in no way means no lockdown was or will be necessary anywhere. Neither can it be used to claim that the scenario would have been the same in other places.

But it clearly points out that this model and many others that influenced policymakers were wrong, and authorities in other countries succumbed to the model predictions of a COVID-19 catastrophe, and mistakenly concluded that only a lockdown could avert such an event.

Economies need to reopen, and authorities must implement social distancing rules to protect the vulnerable age group. There must be less dependency on model forecasts, and policy decisions must be made based on the progress and evolution of the infection rates. 

The sooner the lockdown is lifted, the shorter time it will take for people and businesses to recover from the major slump. Long delay will lead to long-term impact on the economy that could cause a higher death toll than the virus itself.

Vijay Jayaraj

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), is a Research Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

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