The war on lockdowns versus the evidence

Over at NBER, Helliwell et al have a paper comparing the virus elimination strategy of China, Australia, New Zealand, etc., with the more common mitigation strategy followed by most countries (footnote omitted):

Our analyses show that Eliminators experienced lower death rates from COVID-19. But to what extent were these reductions in COVID-19 deaths obtained at the expense of other aspects of economic and social life, and of the mental and physical health of the general population? To answer this question, we shall compare various aspects of life in the two groups of countries.

. . .

What do the data show? First there has been a surprisingly wide-spread resilience of life evaluations in the face of deep and uncertain threats to lives and livelihoods. Second, a comparison based on 2020 data shows the virus-suppression strategy to be more successful, whether measured in terms of COVID-19 deaths, overall excess deaths, income, unemployment, trust, or mental and physical health. Eliminators saved lives, better protected the economy and jobs, all without obvious costs to mental health and well-being.

Now, to be clear, this paper is hardly the last word on this question.  But the notion that eliminating the virus made sense for countries that could do it is surely at least plausible. 

Meanwhile, the war on lockdowns continues.  Donald Boudreaux, one of the most strident of the anti-lockdowners, offers us this headline today:

According to the BBC, New Zealand is going into a nationwide lockdown as a result of one positive Covid test.

Presumably Boudreaux is aware that covid is contagious and spreads from person to person.  One case quickly becomes two cases, and the next thing you know it’s . . . an epidemic.  Rumor has it that it’s easier to contain an epidemic when prevalence is low.  And the eliminationist strategy appears to have worked reasonably well for New Zealand so far.  Of course, we can debate whether alternative strategies might have been better, and we can argue about whether a lockdown is the best policy for New Zealand right now.  Perhaps lockdowns no longer make sense given how contagious the delta variant is.  On the other hand, only 29% of New Zealanders are vaccinated, according to Our World in Data (only 17% with two shots), and so nipping this outbreak in the bud or even just slowing it down could save a lot of lives. 

Boudreaux also links to an article about “how Dystopian Australia has become.”  The lede sounds bad (note this is about border quarantines, not lockdowns):

Some authorities are anticipating the need for quarantine facilities in Australia for at least five years.

But if you read a bit further, you learn this:

Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Minister Eva Lawler did not answer questions about whether the pandemic would last another five years, but said the buses could be used for other disasters as well.

Epidemiologists say they don’t anticipate Australia needing quarantine facilities for another five years but say it’s possible they could be used for at least another two years.

“Five years seems a bit long,” infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon of Australian National University told

“We will probably need them for another two to three years but five years? I don’t know.”

Prof Collignon said it probably depended on what happened in countries where there was a lot of virus circulating and not many people vaccinated.

“That’s likely who we will use supervised quarantine for,” he said.

Also this:

According to Australia’s National Plan, the country will open up to quarantine-free travel once more than 80 per cent of adults has been vaccinated.

“This seems a reasonable plan – although we will constantly need to reassess it,” Prof Blakely said.

You can argue against lockdowns and against border quarantines, but you need to actually make an argument, not just shout loudly and ignore arguments on the other side.