The science here is now irrefutable. A team of top scientist writing in the British Medical Journal have done a meta analysis of all the data available globally on how effective public health measures have been against Covid 19 infections. This is the definitive work on the subject. They started with 51,878 sources of data. Then methodically rejected those that were dodgy. Because they weren’t science, because they were just observational, because they were biased, because they were just anecdotal etc, etc. 15,149 reports were duplicates, 36,079 didn’t meet basic scientific criteria, which left 650 for full assessment. 578 of these did not meet high standards of academic rigour. Which meant that they were left with 72 pieces of academic research that were valid.
And here are the results:
- Handwashing. Overall pooled analysis suggested an estimated 53% non-statistically significant reduction in covid-19 incidence.
- Mask wearing. Overall pooled analysis showed a 53% reduction in covid-19 incidence.
- Mask wearing and death. A natural experiment across 200 countries showed 45.7% fewer covid-19 related mortality in countries where mask wearing was mandatory.
- Use of disinfectant was 77% effective at reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
- Social distancing. Overall pooled analysis indicated a 25% reduction in incidence of covid-19.
- Staying at home. Â A natural experiment reported a 51% reduction in time varying reproductive number (Rt).
- School closures. One study reported a reduction of 13% another reporting a 10% reduction.
- Business closures. One of the studies observed a reduction in transmission of 12% Â and the other reported a 16% reduction.
- A natural experiment involving 202 countries suggested that countries that implemented universal lockdown had fewer new cases of covid-19 than countries that did not.
- A natural experiment study reported about 30% and 60% reductions in covid-19 related mortality post-lockdown in Italy and Spain over four weeks post-intervention, respectively.
So, unsurprisingly, the measures recommended and implemented by governments all worked against the Covid pandemic. However these measures did not stop the disease, they just slowed it down. This gave us time to develop vaccines and then to offer immunisation as an alternative to catching the disease. Also they helped to prevent our health services from being swamped and overwhelmed. Although this did still happen in some countries.
Of course just looking at the effectiveness of these measures at preventing the disease is not enough. The economic damage has been horrendous. The psychological damage massive (especially when governments used fear to control the population). The quality of life for billions of people has been adversely affected for nearly two years now. The deaths and suffering caused by making health services effectively Covid only will probably end up being greater than those caused by the virus. If we knew then what we know now we would have handled this pandemic completely differently.
To date Covid 19 has infected 258 million people and killed more than 5 million of them. It is a nasty way to die, drowning in your own body fluids. But the pandemic is largely over. When the virus appeared we had no herd immunity and so we were incredibly vulnerable. Now, through catching the disease and from immunisation (7.4 billion doses administered so far), we have gained a high level of herd immunity. But the disease will still be around. It will become endemic, like ‘Flu is. This is because immunity fades quickly and because there are reservoirs of the disease in children and in countries with poor health systems. So expect annual booster shots for the vulnerable for the foreseeable future. Those not at risk will probably be able to rely on herd immunity, except in years when it goes epidemic. Those with no immunity will inevitably catch the disease eventually. It will still kill people, just as ‘Flu does.