Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean compellingly detail some of the many reasons why covid lockdowns were a failure. (HT Phil Magness) Two slices:
On April 8, 2020, the Chinese government lifted its lockdown of Wuhan. It had lasted 76 days — two and a half months during which no one was allowed to leave this industrial city of 11 million people, or even leave their homes. Until the Chinese government deployed this tactic, a strict batten-down-the-hatches approach had never been used before to combat a pandemic. Yes, for centuries infected people had been quarantined in their homes, where they would either recover or die. But that was very different from locking down an entire city; the World Health Organization called it “unprecedented in public health history.”
The word the citizens of Wuhan used to describe their situation was fengcheng — “sealed city.” But the English-language media was soon using the word lockdown instead — and reacting with horror. “That the Chinese government can lock millions of people into cities with almost no advance notice should not be considered anything other than terrifying,” a China human rights expert told The Guardian. Lawrence O. Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, told the Washington Post that “these kinds of lockdowns are very rare and never effective.”
The Chinese government, however, was committed to this “zero-COVID” strategy, as it was called. In mid-March 2020, by which time some 50 million people had been forced into lockdowns, China recorded its first day since January with no domestic transmissions — which it offered as proof that its approach was working. For their part, Chinese citizens viewed being confined to their homes as their patriotic duty.
For the next two years, harsh lockdowns remained China’s default response whenever there was an outbreak anywhere in the country. But by March 2022, when the government decided to lock down much of Shanghai after a rise in cases in that city, there was no more talk of patriotism. People reacted with fury, screaming from their balconies, writing bitter denunciations on social media, and, in some cases, committing suicide. When a fire broke out in an apartment building, residents died because the police had locked their doors from the outside. And when the Chinese government finally abandoned lockdowns — an implicit admission that they had not been successful in eliminating the pandemic — there was a wave of COVID-19 cases as bad as anywhere in the world. (To be fair, this was partly because China did such a poor job of vaccinating its citizens.)
One of the great mysteries of the pandemic is why so many countries followed China’s example. In the U.S. and the U.K. especially, lockdowns went from being regarded as something that only an authoritarian government would attempt to an example of “following the science.” But there was never any science behind lockdowns — not a single study had ever been undertaken to measure their efficacy in stopping a pandemic. When you got right down to it, lockdowns were little more than a giant experiment.
For Ferguson, the purpose of the report wasn’t just to release their shocking estimates; it was also to push the American and British governments to commit to lockdowns for the long haul. “[T]his type of intensive intervention package,” the authors wrote, “will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) — given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed.”
It worked. In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson had initially planned to keep the country open. Instead, he ordered a lockdown within a week of Ferguson’s press conference. (Shortly after Johnson imposed the lockdown, Ferguson was visited twice by his mistress. For obvious reasons, this caused a furor when it was discovered. Ferguson was the first, though hardly the last, Establishment bigwig to ignore the COVID-19 rules they demanded of everyone else.)
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Rob Johnson and Wesley Hottot (of the Institute for Justice) explain what’s at stake in a U.S. Supreme Court case dealing with the banana-republic practice of civil asset forfeiture. A slice:
This is civil forfeiture—a legal mechanism that allows the government to seize property because the government alleges the property is connected to a crime. Because the property, not its owner, is formally the “defendant,” considerations of due process—such as a right to a speedy trial—go out the window.
On Monday the Supreme Court will hear a case to decide whether the Constitution requires a prompt hearing after law enforcement seizes vehicles for civil forfeiture. The plaintiffs in Culley v. Marshall had their vehicles seized because a family member and friend allegedly possessed drugs while borrowing them. Law enforcement held each car for over a year without a hearing.
As attorneys who litigate civil-forfeiture cases, we have seen firsthand the cost routine delays impose on innocent Americans. Victims often wait years for their cases to be heard. Without a vehicle, their lives are thrown into chaos, forcing them to miss school, work and medical appointments or fall back on often unreliable public transportation.