Nov 18, 2020 - Health

The scientific case against lockdowns

Illustration of a house with a padlock shackle on the roof in an open position.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Less costly pandemic mitigation measures may slow the spread of the coronavirus just as well as lockdowns — if not better — according to a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Why it matters: As cases continue to rise in the U.S., Americans may be more palatable to interventions that are less painful than the spring's stay-at-home orders.

What they're saying: "A smaller package of such measures can substitute for a full lockdown in terms of effectiveness, while reducing adverse impacts on society, the economy, the humanitarian response system and the environment," the authors write.

Details: The study examined the impact of more than 6,000 non-pharmaceutical interventions implemented in March and April in 79 territories worldwide.

What they found: "Surprisingly, communicating on the importance of social distancing has been only marginally less effective than imposing distancing measures by law," the authors write.

  • Food assistance and other financial supports for vulnerable populations are also highly effective, because they can help people stay home while sick without risking losing their job, for example.
  • The study also endorsed some of the component restrictions the U.S. has imposed — banning public gatherings, limiting people's movements, closing schools and border restrictions — over the more sweeping lockdowns in other countries, some of which barely allowed people to leave their homes, even to be alone outside.

Yes, but: The U.S. does not have clear, authoritative political communication about the need for social distancing, and Congress is not likely to pass a financial aid package that would enable many Americans to stay home for very long.

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