lockdowns

Cost of Australia’s COVID Lockdowns 68 Times More Than Benefits Delivered: Analysis

31 March 2023

3.1 MINS

UNSW Professor Gigi Foster began warning against lockdowns in 2021. Her recent analysis of Australia’s approach to COVID-19 yielded far worse results than she had imagined.

While Australian governments are yet to provide the public with a cost-benefit analysis of their COVID-era lockdown policies, one Australian economist has — and her findings are disturbing.

According to Gigi Foster, Professor at the School of Economics at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia’s policy response to COVID-19 cost at least 68 times more than the benefits those policies delivered.

Professor Foster began sounding the alarm on lockdowns in 2021, when she wrote an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald entitled, ‘Stop this human sacrifice: the case against lockdowns’.

Her recent analysis yielded results far worse than even she had imagined at that time.

Dispelling the Myth of Money Over Health

Co-authored with Sanjeev Sabhlok, Professor Foster’s analysis looks at the societal, economic and health merits of lockdown policies enforced by federal and state governments through the COVID pandemic.

Professor Foster is quick to dispel the myth, often asserted about lockdown critics, that she is more concerned with economic prosperity than human lives, or focussed on money over health. On the contrary, her analysis considers the total cost and benefit for human wellbeing under lockdowns versus the total cost and benefit for human wellbeing without those policies — in both cases, with COVID-19 spreading in the community.

UNSW’s BusinessThink explains her approach:

The human welfare costs of lockdowns are put into a currency (quality-adjusted life years, or QALY) that is used to enumerate both current and projected costs and benefits of the lockdowns. The analysis also uses a newly created measure (the wellbeing year, or WELLBY) to capture some lockdown costs. Since one year of average healthy life (one QALY) equates to six WELLBYs experienced by a person for one year, [Professor Foster] said this allows suffering across the society in various dimensions to be compared with benefits in the same welfare ‘currency’.

Calculating the Benefit of Lockdowns

Professor Foster was conservative in her computations, always careful to be generous to lockdowns. She calculated that at most, 9,951 deaths were avoided through Australia’s lockdowns and border closures.

In her anaylsis, each of these lives represents a loss of three to five QALY’s, since on average such deaths occur in people already advanced in age and not in good health. Professor Foster also accounted for the future impact of ‘long-COVID’ and non-COVID deaths that were averted through, e.g., less homicides and road traffic deaths.

Her upper-end estimate for the total benefit of lockdowns was as follows:

[9951 (total COVID deaths averted) x 5 (healthy years lost per COVID death) x 6 (WELLBYs per QALY) x 1.02 (estimate for long COVID)] + [131 (non-COVID deaths averted) x 50 (healthy years lost per each such death) x 6 (WELLBYs per QALY)] which equals 343,800 WELLBYs, or 57,300 QALYs, in total.

Calculating the Cost of Lockdowns

By comparison, Professor Foster calculated the minimum cost of lockdowns, taking into account all dimensions of human suffering that they created in both the short and the long term. These include mental health declines, disruption of education for children, additional domestic violence, and economic losses that shuttered businesses, damaged whole sectors, increased inequality, and will depress spending on roads, hospitals and other infrastructure for years to come.

The figure she arrived at for the cost of lockdowns was 23.41 million WELLBYs — 68 times greater than the benefits delivered by lockdowns.

“Since I have made assumptions that are extremely favourable to the government’s choice to pursue a lockdown strategy,” she cautions, “the true ratio of costs to benefits of the Australian COVID lockdowns is likely greater than this.”

‘Health was Simply Redefined as Protection from COVID’

In summarising the grave miscalculation made by Australian governments, Professor Foster told BusinessThink, “for about two years, health was simply redefined as protection from COVID”.

“That was a fatal mistake — literally a fatal mistake for many Australians,” Professor Foster laments. She adds:

The government simply ignored the distillation of public health experience and knowledge of many generations, embodied in the existing pandemic management plans in Australia and overseas in early 2020. They were summarily scrapped and put in the garbage bin in March 2020. And if we had simply followed those plans, I think we would have had a much better outcome all around.

Professor Foster is also adamant that governments issue cost-benefit analyses for their lockdown policies that transparently estimate and weigh all known and expected benefits against all known and expected harms of those policies. She remains baffled at their refusal thus far to do so:

The federal and state governments here in Australia have conspicuously failed to provide such a defence of their policies, which simply underscores [the fact that] this suite of policies could not possibly be defended on the basis that it actually, on net, delivered better human health outcomes than some other policy that could have been pursued.

Image via Unsplash.

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3 Comments

  1. Kaylene Emery 31 March 2023 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Did the government really ignore the information it had about lockdown damage – or did it take advantage of that knowledge ?
    A rhetorical question of course ….and now we turn to our Lord for His grace to allow us to face this shameful and shocking truth about our own government.
    We can only do this if we stand in Him and for Him.

    • Kim Beazley 1 April 2023 at 8:27 am - Reply

      Why assume that the actions of those in authority were the result of only negative motivations like indifference or malice?

      Can you not allow that they may be fundamentally honest people like you and me, doing their best in incredibly difficult circumstances?

      Why jump to the conclusion that’s “shameful and shocking” as though only that can be the truth?

      Cynicism like that has no place in the mindset of Christians.

  2. Warwick Marsh 3 April 2023 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Great article Kurt!

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