The research was an international collaboration between scientists in Australia, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States. They considered not only overall mortality rates but also disruptions to health services, mental health effects, and the number of suicides. To tease apart the health effects of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, the researchers turned to the World Mortality Dataset.
Writing in BMJ Global Health, public health experts emphasize that it is challenging to disentangle the health effects of lockdowns from the health effects of the pandemic. People sometimes sum these up as “the cure is worse than the disease.”
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However, their own analysis suggests that it is unlikely that government interventions have been worse for public health — at least in the short term — than the pandemic itself. They cite factors, such as missed opportunities to screen for illnesses and provide vaccinations, lengthening waiting times for consultations and surgical procedures, and the mental health toll of loneliness and isolation.
If it were true that “the cure is worse than the disease,” lockdowns would have increased death rates in these countries compared with previous years, even in the absence of severe outbreaks. The researchers found a similar story in South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand, which imposed lockdowns despite having few or no COVID-19 cases. In Australia and New Zealand, which imposed several lockdowns but experienced relatively few COVID-19 cases, the researchers found no excess mortality during 2020.
It defines “excess mortality” as the difference between the actual number of deaths and the predicted number, given trends before the pandemic. The dataset includes figures for “excess mortality” in 94 countries between the start of the pandemic in 2020 and the middle of 2021.
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