Johns Hopkins Study Finds COVID Lockdowns Ineffective at Saving Lives

A virtually empty Times Square in March 2020 / Getty Images
February 2, 2022

A study from researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that lockdowns have had "little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality."

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 24 studies examining government mandates that restrict people's freedoms, including school and business closures, stay-at-home orders, travel bans, and face mask requirements. The results of the meta-analysis indicated that lockdowns in the United States and Europe have reduced deaths from COVID-19 by just 0.2 percent.

"We find little to no evidence that mandated lockdowns in Europe and the United States had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality rates," the authors of the study wrote.

An analysis of studies that focused just on stay-at-home orders found they were 2.9 percent effective at reducing mortality. Studies that gathered data on a broad number of government-imposed pandemic measures actually indicated that stay-at-home orders marginally increased COVID deaths.

The authors found no evidence of a noticeable effect on COVID mortality from any specific lockdown measure except for business closures, though "the variation in estimates is large and the effect seems related to closing bars," the authors wrote. They found mask mandates may reduce mortality but declined to form a conclusion on their effectiveness because their meta-analysis looked at only one study that examines universal mask mandates.

The authors concluded that governments should abandon lockdown measures because of their negligible impact on mortality and the real societal damage they cause.

"While this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects, they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted," the researchers wrote. "In consequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument."

The study was published by Johns Hopkins's Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise. One of the study's authors, economics professor Steve Hanke, is a codirector of the institute.