Thousands upon thousands of people have lost jobs, suffered social isolation and mental and physical issues from government-enforced lockdowns.
Though an international review led by University of Wollongong epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz has concluded that although lockdowns are associated with harms to health, their impact on health was unlikely to be worse than the impact of COVID-19 itself.
The paper published in the online journal BMJ Global Health, reviewed evidence about potential harms of both lockdown and COVID-19.
"We found, based on the World Mortality Dataset, that the data strongly demonstrates that lockdowns cannot have caused large numbers of deaths in the short term," Mr Meyerowitz-Katz said.
"Based on a number of studies, we have found that, while there are certainly secondary harms to lockdowns, such as damage to people's mental health, the harms of large numbers of COVID-19 cases are just as bad if not worse.
"In the case of mental health in particular, while social isolation is clearly not ideal for any of us, having thousands of people suffering and dying from COVID-19 in the community is also not great for our mental health either."
Mr Meyerowitz-Katz said there was an ongoing debate about whether the cure was worse than the disease.
"While it was challenging to determine the causes of harm, we concluded that it was unlikely that government interventions had been worse than the pandemic itself in most situations."
South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said the study seemed to confirm what most reasonable people might assume to be the case, and that is that lockdowns are not good for anyone, but are absolutely necessary to avoid catastrophic health outcomes.
Lockdowns are not good for anyone, but are absolutely necessary to avoid catastrophic health outcomes.South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris
"The real question though is not whether we should go into lockdown or not, the real question is how soon, and how effective can we make those lockdowns." he said.
"What you don't want to see, and what no one wants is sacrifices being squandered by governments that are too slow to act and then go halfway in their measures. That does not help anyone."
Mr Rorris said the dynamics of the delta strain clearly changed day by day.
"The issues we all have to confront now is our ability to embrace short, sharp measures such as lockdown in order to avoid lengthy periods that really do so much more damage to our health, both mental and physical, and to our and our economy more broadly."
Mr Meyerowitz-Katz, who received funding from the NSW state government and Commonwealth of Australia, for 'Is the cure really worse than the disease? The health impacts of lockdowns during COVID-19' paper, said while there was robust evidence that government interventions to control COVID-19 have not been associated with increased deaths from suicide, there was also abundant evidence that mental health has declined in the population since the onset of the pandemic.
"The question is whether these declines in mental health were caused by government interventions or driven by the pandemic itself," he said.
"The relationship between mental health and lockdowns is commonly discussed, but the equally important link between large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks and depression and anxiety is often overlooked."
The review does not conclude that lockdowns cannot cause any harm; there are harms associated with both large COVID-19 outbreaks and government interventions to prevent the disease.
"Governments are not faced with the choice between the harms of lockdown and the harms of COVID-19, but rather how best to minimise the impact of both," Mr Meyerowitz-Katz said.
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