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Study: No 'additional benefit' to lockdowns amid COVID-19 pandemic

"Benefits may not match the numerous harms of these aggressive measures," found the peer-reviewed study conducted by researchers at Stanford University and published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Updated: January 18, 2021 - 9:03pm

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A new study examining responses worldwide to the COVID-19 virus found that mandatory lockdown orders failed to provide significantly more benefits toward stemming the spread of the virus than voluntary measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

The study, which was peer-reviewed, was conducted by researchers at Stanford University and published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation. The study compared cases in England, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the U.S.

All of those countries employed mandatory lockdown orders and business closures, compared to other countries that instituted less severe, voluntary responses, such as South Korea and Sweden.

"We do not question the role of all public health interventions, or of coordinated communications about the epidemic, but we fail to find an additional benefit of stay-at-home orders and business closures," the researchers said. "The data cannot fully exclude the possibility of some benefits. However, even if they exist, these benefits may not match the numerous harms of these aggressive measures. More targeted public health interventions that more effectively reduce transmissions may be important for future epidemic control without the harms of highly restrictive measures."

The researchers said only "small benefits" were likely achieved by "the most restrictive non‐pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for controlling the spread of COVID‐19," which include mandatory stay‐at‐home and business closures."

"In summary, we fail to find strong evidence supporting a role for more restrictive NPIs in the control of COVID in early 2020," the study concludes.

As for methodology, the researchers said they estimated COVID‐19 case growth in relation to any NPI implementation in subnational regions of 10 countries: England, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, and the U.S. The researchers then isolated the effects of more restrictive NPIs by subtracting the combined effects of less restrictive NPIs.

The researchers determined that there was "no clear, significant beneficial effect of [more restrictive measures] on case growth in any country."

"While modest decreases in daily growth (under 30%) cannot be excluded in a few countries, the possibility of large decreases in daily growth due to more restrictive NPIs is incompatible with the accumulated data," the study found.

But a study published in June in the journal Nature by researchers at Imperial College London in June said that more than 3 million deaths had been averted due to lockdowns across Europe.

"This data suggests that without any interventions, such as lockdown and school closures, there could have been many more deaths from COVID-19," Dr. Samir Bhatt, an author of the study said in June, according to the university. "The rate of transmission has declined from high levels to ones under control in all European countries we study."