Time for a Post-Mortem on the Harms of Lockdowns


It seems the “shut up and mask” wall is finally crumbling on COVID. The usual suspects still say you need to cover up and quarantine outdoors after getting vaccinated. But it’s becoming reputable to ask questions that, frankly, ought to have been asked long ago.

For instance, a long and worrying discussion in the May 20 National Post newspaper about the very direct health costs of the lockdown. Here I don’t mean of inactivity, extra eating, drinking, and above all isolation. I mean direct as in postponed surgeries. The Post quoted one Toronto “interventional cardiologist” (which if you find out what it is, you clearly have a problem requiring urgent attention) that he had “lost a lot of patients on the wait list.”

If the lockdowns were entirely necessary to prevent mass COVID fatalities, it might be legitimate to put those excess deaths in the COVID column. But if we overreacted, including cancelling other surgeries on the theory that only COVID mattered, they go into the “lockdown” column.

Which only exists if you admit there were tradeoffs, that by preventing a lot of things that would normally happen the lockdowns had real costs as well as benefits. For a long time that suggestion got you shouted down. But a rational person would try to weigh such costs to determine what policy makes sense… in real time. According to the Post, “soon-to-be-published data indicates that twice as many Ontarians with heart ailments died waiting for surgery during the pandemic than before COVID-19 hit.” So the fear that there would be triage among COVID patients, which didn’t happen, conceals that there was in cardiac care.

Obviously, heart surgery is a particularly non-elective kind of “elective” treatment. But the Post called it “just one facet of an often-overlooked side effect of the pandemic: the logjam across the country of hundreds of thousands of surgeries that grew as hospitals freed up space for COVID sufferers.” Which extend from quality-of-life matters like eye or hip surgery to question-of-life ones like cancer.

The Post comment that “Clearing the backlog is expected to cost billions, take years and keep operating rooms open evenings and weekends” has an “If I could walk like that” quality. If the authorities could fix surgical backlogs by spending billions and working more, they would have long before COVID. In fact, this form of rationing is a feature, not a bug, in Canadian health care. But one crisis at a time.

Why were these direct health costs so “often-overlooked,” with the data only being released “soon”? Here I come back to the whole “get-with-the-program” issue that has bedevilled us since last March. We’ve been told not to question lockdowns or masking, or discuss alternative treatments, who’s really at risk, or where the plague started. And by and large we did not.

Too many journalists became cheerleaders for governments. And too many legislatures rolled over, or up, as pundits pressured, activists bullied, experts said, and politicians snarled about following the science even while flopping the flip of their flabadap from borders to spacing vaccination doses to opening, closing, banning golf, and padlocking playgrounds.

In a society with the rule of law, it is not bad that people obeyed the law even while questioning its wisdom. But it is bad that questioning its wisdom was censured, even cancelled. We have acquired bad mental habits and they served us ill in the pandemic. And I think the consequences include further erosion of public trust including, in Ontario, widespread disregard of the latest lockdown.

Some people may be readying the brickbats over masks, let alone alternative treatments. But wearing what amounts to a T-shirt on your face does little to prevent you getting, or giving, a disease. Had people breathed through scarves to fight the Black Death we would mock their superstition. As for alternative measures, some doubtless were as idiotic as they sounded. But others, like vitamin D in particular, deserved clinical attention.

Now that only diehards are saying get vaccinated then stay home wearing six masks, I very much hope we will revisit a number of such questions. Not to scape goats; by and large revenge is a dish best served not. But to examine what we did right, and how we went wrong when we did. And we will find that the lockdowns did a lot of harm, from postponed surgery through inactivity to bankruptcy and isolation, and that the evidence was there long before we finally dared look at it.

When we do the post-mortem, figurative or literal, I think we will conclude that opting for panicky, state-coerced unanimity that forbade us to consider alternatives was exactly as bad a plan as it sounded this time, and always has been through history. If so, let’s remember it for the next crisis, medical or otherwise.

John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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John Robson
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