Head of Public Policy Tim Dieppe comments on a new analysis of Covid lockdowns and the lessons Christians should learn from what happened.
The evidence is now in.
A newly published meta-analysis which examined almost 20,000 studies shows that the impact of lockdowns on Covid mortality was ‘negligible’. Lockdown is the strict ‘stay at home’ orders that applied throughout the UK with forced closures of schools and businesses. The use of other measures such as social distancing and face masks is not criticised in the report.
We were told by the now notorious Professor Neil Fergusson, who disobeyed his own lockdown advice, that a “reasonable worst case scenario” would be 500,000 deaths, and even with other mitigations there could be at least 250,000 deaths. Therefore, we were told, lockdowns were required to avoid anything like this from happening.
Now the evidence shows that as few as 1,700 lives were saved by lockdown.
In an average week there are 11,000 deaths in England and Wales. A typical flu season accounts for around 20,000 deaths in England and Wales. Fortunately, we do not lockdown for flu every year. If the negligible benefit had been known at the time, compared with the astronomical costs, no politician would have supported lockdowns.
In August 2020, I argued that “it is not clear whether lockdown has worked”. Even then, government figures were suggesting that lockdown had killed two people for every three who died of coronavirus at the peak of the outbreak.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can now say categorically that lockdown was a mistake.
The costs of lockdown
Let’s review some of the appalling costs of lockdown:
- Effects of lockdown estimated to have killed more people than Covid.
- More than 7 million people waiting for hospital appointments.
- More cancelled cancer operations that anywhere else in Western Europe.
- Tripling of deaths among men with prostate cancer in the first year of the pandemic.
- Children with mental health problems rising from 10.1% in 2017 to 17.8% in 2022.
- Young adults with symptoms of depression doubling from 11% to 23%.
- Children losing months of education with 124,000 children who have not returned to school.
- Court backlogs doubled to 61,000.
- Over £300 billion public spending on lockdown creating a record peacetime budget deficit and a massive increase in government debt contributing to inflation.
These are just some of the health, economic and educational costs of lockdown. But it doesn’t even begin to account for the spiritual cost of criminalising gathering to worship God for the first time in centuries.
It is worth remembering that while bicycle shops and off-licences were allowed to remain open as ‘essential services’, churches were forced to close. A church could run a foodbank, but if there was a prayer meeting or prayer for someone that would have been breaking the law. The rules were draconian and totalitarian. And now we know that they did not even have the intended effect.
Christian Concern issued legal notices to the government challenging the closure of churches as a breach of human rights and of the constitution. When the Scottish Government continued church closures longer than elsewhere, the matter finally reached court where Lord Braid ruled that the Scottish Ministers’ decision to criminalise church worship was a breach of both the constitution and human rights.
Lessons to learn for the future
What lessons should we learn from the dramatic experience of covid and lockdowns?
Christians should be courageous and not fearful. In many ways our nation suffered a pandemic of fear which has left many people traumatised. Our Lord reigns supreme and he is constantly working out his good purposes. We need to minister in faith, and not in fear. Christians should stand up for their rights and challenge the legality of measures that restrict basic Christian freedoms.
Christians should be very wary of draconian government controls and scare tactics when used by governments. This is how totalitarianism begins. Governments always use fear to motivate compliance with extreme measures. During the third lockdown, the Advertising Standards Authority criticised the government for spreading false information and risking scaring people with government adverts which the government subsequently withdrew. Sadly, one lesson is that government propaganda cannot always be trusted, particularly if it is fear mongering.
Finally, when we encounter events beyond our usual experience, it is always worth looking back at church history to see what lessons can be learned from our forefathers. I wrote an article about lessons we can learn from how Spurgeon responded to a cholera epidemic that was much more deadly than covid. I wrote another article about how faithful Christians ministered and kept their churches open in past plagues that were also far more deadly than covid. I also wrote about how Augustine had explained why the righteous suffer with the wicked in times of calamity. Lessons from church history can inspire us to respond in faith to current times of crisis and calamity.
I hope that we never face a lockdown again in this nation. I hope that the government learns the lessons it should learn. But I also hope that the church learns the lessons it needs to learn. There will be further crises and calamities. We must live by faith and not by sight and respond with the kind courage and conviction that will inspire others and lead others to faith in times of peril.
Find out more about Church lockdown