Australia's Covid response cost $934.8 billion and resulted in 31 x more life years lost than were saved
"A humanitarian disaster", new report from the Institute of Public Affairs
A new report from Australian think tank The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) calls Australia’s zero-covid strategy and its associated lockdown measures, “a humanitarian disaster.”
It’s easy to understand why the authors (Morgan Begg, Director of the IPA’s Legal Rights Program, and Daniel Wild, Deputy Executive Director of IPA) came to this conclusion.
They found that Australia's Covid response, which involved some of the longest lockdowns in the world, cost $934.8 billion and resulted in 31 x more life years lost than were saved.
Australian federal, state and territory governments threw out the evidence-based Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza (written in 2014 and updated by the federal department of health in August 2019) in favour of an unscientific, costly, and frankly cruel zero-covid approach. It was an abject failure. IPA’s Hard Lessons reports quantifies just how much this failure cost Australia in life years, economic terms, and in educational losses.
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1. The direct economic, fiscal and inflationary cost of pandemic measures stand at $938.4 billion as at the end of the 2021-22 financial year.
The authors calculate the total cost of Australia’s pandemic response by assessing net direct economic cost ($2.49 billion), government spending ($595.8 billion), and the cost of inflation arising from zero-covid measures.
This estimate is conservative, as it only accounts for direct costs. Examples of costs not included: extra policing resources to enforce public health directions, and costs of transitioning public sector workers to work from home. This estimate accounts for the period from March 2020 to June 2022. Australia can expect to surpass the trillion dollar mark as the Covid response continues, which the trending hashtag #covidisnotover (favoured by Twitter white coats and health policy spokespeople) indicates that it will do for some time yet.
2. The costs of joblessness and not working on life expectancy as a result of the first nationwide lockdowns in March and April 2020 were 31 times greater than the maximum possible benefits of all lockdowns.
The authors calculate the maximum number of life years saved due to Australia’s Covid lockdowns (Mar 2020 - Jan 2022) to be 57,300.1. This is a generous estimate that encompasses life years saved by lockdowns not just in terms of Covid outcomes, but also due to concomitant factors such as reduced road traffic (and therefore fewer road deaths). My only query is over the estimated life years lost due to long Covid effects, for which the authors defer to UNSW Professor of Economics Gigi Foster’s Cost Benefit Analysis of lockdowns. Given that there is widespread disagreement about the frequency and severity of long Covid, I would like to know how Foster arrived at her figure, and how variations might affect the overall calculation of life years saved.
The authors reference an international body of literature detailing the negative effects of unemployment on life expectancy, largely due to stress (which induces cardiovascular disease); illicit substance and alcohol abuse; and suicide. Loss of life expectancy is a permanent effect - research shows that even when the person becomes employed again, the life expectancy lost is never recovered. The total number of life years lost just in the initial nationwide lockdowns of March and April 2020 was almost 1.8 million years due to job losses alone.
3. Students have suffered significant setbacks, particularly in Victoria where Year 9 students reading and numeracy skills have fallen behind by 12 weeks and 17 weeks, respectively.
The authors highlight that Covid is an illness that primarily affects the elderly, and yet Australian children copped the frontline effects of our zero-covid measures. As early as April 2020, experts warned that young Australians were at risk of adverse effects on their educational outcomes, nutrition, physical movement, social, and emotional wellbeing by being physically disconnected from school. While students from all states and territories fell behind in educational outcomes, those with longer lockdowns suffered the worst (See: Victoria).
The authors note that Sweden did not close schools during the pandemic, and subsequent research has shown no learning loss.
OTHER TAKE AWAYS
Researchers have found that:
Mental health harms in Australia are linked not to Covid itself but to the government and media response to Covid (lockdowns, fear mongering)
There is a small but statistically significant effect of lockdown on mental health
People feel the social isolation more than ever and previous problems of mental health, addiction, and unemployment are compounded
1/5 Victorians aged between 14-17 had suicidal thoughts at least most days during Victoria’s second lockdown, while 38% experienced clinically significant depressive symptoms (background rates of incidence are not referenced in the report)
A survey of drug use found that some reported using cannabis and alcohol to cope with lockdowns
Decline of community
Sporting clubs have seen declines in participation, membership, volunteers, and revenue. In total, Australia’s 70,000 community sporting clubs have lost a combined $1.6 billion due to restrictions. The authors point out that sporting clubs are just one node in our network of community life. This area demands further research to ascertain the full effects of lockdowns on the social fabric.
Decline of physical health and fitness
As obesity is a key comorbidity for poor Covid outcomes, it was striking that Australian zero-covid policies so aggressively restricted opportunities for exercise and physical fitness. 35% of Australians gained weight during the pandemic, according to a survey by the Royal Association College of General Practitioners.
Victoria took the hardest hit
Victoria bears the brunt of the losses detailed in the report. Melbourne had the longest lockdown of any other city on earth, and has paid a steeper price in monetary, life year and educational losses than any other state or territory as a result. #sackdanandrews
BASICALLY, IT WAS A TOTAL CLUSTERFUCK
There’s no other way to characterise the zero-covid policies of Australia’s federal, state and territory governments. The harms were extraordinary and grossly outweighed any benefits afforded. Almost a trillion dollars has been spent to achieve a loss of life years in the order of 31 times any life years saved. Children have suffered disproportionately, with those being locked down the longest experiencing the most severe educational setbacks. Australians’ health has been compromised, and our social fabric has been sorely damaged. It’s a hard lesson.
Thanks to the IPA for taking pains to produce this comprehensive report. It’s the kind of thing our governments should have done before they threw all pandemic plan wisdom out the window in favour of the failed zero-covid approach. With independent think tanks like IPA stimulating public discussion of what went wrong, we have the opportunity to learn, and to never repeat these mistakes again.
*holds breath, crosses fingers*
READ THE REPORT
If you’re not shy of hard lessons, we’ll get along.