From Australia to India and the Philippines, are coronavirus lockdowns working?

In the Australian state of Victoria, authorities are implementing one of the harshest and longest-lasting lockdowns in the world as daily cases of Covid-19 hover in the double digits. In India, businesses are finding it hard to resume operations as policymakers ease restrictions, despite new infections topping 90,000 each day.
In European capitals, citizens patronise bars and restaurants even as daily infections run into the thousands, after trading lockdowns for mask-wearing and limits on large gatherings. And at the same time Manila is opening up despite rising cases, Jakarta is partially shutting down.
Nearly nine months after Chinese authorities shut down Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the pandemic, policymakers around the world are divided on the continuing viability of lockdowns, which have been credited with saving lives but have also inflicted enormous social and economic costs.
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A study of China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States, published in Nature journal, showed that by the beginning of April, lockdowns and other measures such as travel restrictions and social distancing prevented 530 million infections across the six countries.
According to Gavi, the vaccine alliance, another study suggests that a severe lockdown would ideally start no later than two weeks after the outbreak began, gradually easing off to cover 60 per cent of the population after a month, and 20 per cent of the population after 3 months.
However, the timing of lockdowns can be tricky, and can have significant effects on their effectiveness. Gavi also notes that low and middle-income countries struggled to implement lockdowns, particularly those with a large informal sector, while wealthier countries were more likely to have social or economic safety nets.
“In general, most societies either are unwilling to acknowledge that resources are finite and health wants and needs are infinite, or they do so explicitly and get criticised for putting a price on a life,” said Howard P. Forman, a professor of public health policy at Yale School of Management. “It will be many years before we can judge the successes or failures of our interventions here.”
Researchers have linked lockdowns – which have in many cases been accompanied by sharp declines in GDP – to numerous societal ills, while stay-at-home orders and the redirection of medical resources toward Covid-19 have been associated with deaths from other maladies.
In the US state of Colorado, researchers at Denver Health found the imposition of a stay-at-home order in March was followed by a 2.2-fold rise in heart attacks at home, with those deaths exceeding the total number of fatalities from Covid-19 in the two weeks following the order.
In a study published in The Lancet last month, British researchers predicted that the suspension of cancer screening and routine diagnostic work due to the pandemic would result in an additional 3,621 cancer deaths over the next five years.
London’s delay in implementing a national lockdown was also a factor, with a former scientific adviser to the British government saying the country’s Covid-19 death toll could have been halved if the movement restriction was put in place a week earlier.
But multiple studies have also predicted spikes in mental illness and suicide following lockdowns. At the University of Toronto, researchers estimated that unemployment resulting from “containment measures” could see suicides in Canada rise by about 28 per cent from 2018.
Other side effects include a surge in domestic violence, with the United Nations Population Fund earlier this year predicting pandemic restrictions could lead to an additional 15 million cases of abuse for every three months they are extended.
Measuring such unintended consequences is complicated because the precise impact of lockdowns on the economy itself remains a matter of debate. Economists at the University of Chicago have estimated that just 7 per cent of the massive decline in US consumer traffic this year was …