Story at a glance

  • A recent study revealed that countries with more restrictive government policies averaged the same daily transmission rate of COVID-19 as countries with less restrictive policies.
  • Higher transmission rates occur within homes.
  • The more restrictive government policies are not worth the resulting harmful health effects (hunger, drug overdoses, increase in disease from missed health services, domestic abuse, and mental health/suicidality).

Study overview

On January 5, 2021, a study was published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation (accessed through Wiley Online Library) detailing the ineffectiveness of more restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions (mrNPI) during the pandemic.

The purpose of this study was to investigate whether more restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions (mrNPI) slowed the transmission rate of COVID-19 more than less restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions (lrNPI).

The researchers compared South Korea and Sweden’s (countries with lrNPI) transmission rates with 8 countries who have mrNPI. Overall, there were 16 total comparisons.

What they discovered was that countries with mrNPI still maintained positive (increasing) transmission rates.

What are non-pharmaceutical interventions?

A non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) is a combative tactic used by individuals and communities to prevent or slow the spread of illnesses without the help of medicine.

Common NPI consists of frequently washing your hands and covering your mouth/nose when you cough/sneeze.

However, in terms of the study, the researchers refer to NPI as a government doctrine to decrease the transmission rates of COVID-19. According to the study there are two categories of NPI: less restrictive and more restrictive.

  • More Restrictive Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention (mrNPI): “Some of the most restrictive NPI policies include mandatory stay-at-home and business closure orders (‘lockdown’).” (1)
  • Less Restrictive Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention (lrNPI): “Unlike most of its neighbours that implemented mandatory stay-at-home and business closures, Sweden’s approach in the early stages of the pandemic relied entirely on lrNPIs, including social distancing guide-lines, discouraging of international and domestic travel, and a ban on large gatherings. South Korea also did not implement mrNPIs. Its strategy relied on intensive investments in testing, contact tracing and isolation of infected cases and close contacts.” (2)

The expectation is that mrNPIs, such as lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, are more effective than lrNPIs because more supposed precautionary measures are taking place.

Do lockdowns decrease the transmission rate of COVID-19?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: The researchers reached a genuine conclusion through extensive research that more restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions do not decrease the transmission rate of COVID-19, and that more transmission occurs within people’s homes. In fact, “In none of the 8 countries and in none out of the 16 comparisons (against Sweden or South Korea) were the effects of mrNPIs negative (beneficial).”

The researchers go on to say, “The point estimates were positive (point in the direction of mrNPIs resulting in increased daily growth in cases…” and that the findings showed there is “no clear, significant” benefit to lockdowns. (3)

The graph below shows the “effect of mrNPIs on daily growth rates after accounting for the effects of lrNPIs in South Korea and Sweden. Under no comparison is there evidence of reduction in case growth rates form mrNPIs, in any country.” (4)

More restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions are capable of harm

Despite popular belief, mrNPIs are associated with considerable harms. The study lists potential harmful health effects of mrNPIs such as: hunger, drug overdoses, increase in diseases from missed health services, domestic abuse, and mental health/suicidality.

The researchers say that “…it is increasingly recognized that [mrNPI’s] postulated benefits deserve careful study.” (5)

It is also stated that “the proportion of COVID-19 deaths that occurred in nursing homes was often higher under [more restrictive non-pharmaceutical interventions] rather than under less-restrictive measures.” (6)

Since mrNPIs have potential harmful health effects and have no substantial influence in decreasing COVID-19 transmission rates, their imposition is rather counter-intuitive.

Although it is commonly believed that lockdowns would improve the nation’s health by limiting the transmission of COVID-19, researchers have only been able to conclude that they instead provoke other life-threatening health crises.

Further Discussion