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In a May 20, 2020 article (German) cites a mathematician who claims the various lock-down measures against COVID-19 are useless.

However, the Israeli mathematician Isaac Ben-Israel believes that a lockdown is useless. However, it is based on mathematical studies rather than medical studies. He wants to have calculated that the course of corona infections is the same in every country - regardless of whether and if so, which measures are taken.

Ben-Israel is Chairman of the Israeli Space Agency and the National Council for Research and Development of the Ministry of Science. In his analysis , he concludes that the coronavirus pandemic peaks 40 days after the outbreak in each country . After 70 days, it will drop so much that it will soon be practically zero. And that is completely independent of what measures the government has taken in the respective country.

This is just one of several voices in Germany making similar claims:

I've been following Worldometer and other sites on the statistics and it does seem clear to me that all countries that refused to lockdown (e.g. Sweden) or delayed in making it happen (e.g. UK, USA) suffered considerably worse fates than those who locked down early.

Is there any hard evidence to support that a lockdown could have been avoided once the disease had established itself in a country?

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    @PCLuddite - Japan "asked its citizens to stay at home", which by japanese standards is roughly the same thing, from what I've heard (and it matches my own limited Japan experience). – Tom Jun 14 at 7:00
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    "Is there any evidence to support that a lockdown could have been avoided?" <- does this need much evidence? Some places avoided a lockdown (for better or worse); therefore, it possible to avoid a lockdown. – user253751 Jun 15 at 12:37
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    I highlighted one claim, but I am unhappy that - since the date of publication - his hypothesis has already been disproven. It has been over 90 days since the USA reached 100 cases, and it hasn't become practically zero. – Oddthinking Jun 16 at 6:45
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    @Tom General bubble-bursting comment... sometimes, the low number of sites listing long summaries of proof for something -- like, that reducing the number of social contacts reduces the spread of a virus -- is due to that something being pretty obvious. Did these measures limit the spread? Of course they did. You could ask if the benefit of that outweighed the drawbacks, but that would be opinion-based and thus off-topic. Looking for lists of "proof" is something that can build that filter bubble, and it's usually not the one you would want to be in. ;-) – DevSolar Jun 16 at 10:17
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    @Tom: Because it is much easier to understand the question if one of the claims is actually pinned down and presented, I chose to highlight one claim that you found. My concern is that it is possibly no longer supported by the original claimant (because 90 days later, his prediction seems obviously proven wrong). A more recent claim (or evidence that people still believe the claim) would be preferable to show notability. – Oddthinking Jun 16 at 10:24
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Yes, social distancing reduced the spread of COVID-19.

Mathematical models from March found that social distancing can reduce the spread significantly.

Implementing the combined intervention of quarantining infected individuals and their family members, workplace distancing, and school closure once community transmission has been detected could substantially reduce the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections. [1]

A review also found that mass-quaratine limits the spread.

We found good quality evidence for the effectiveness of mass quarantine during the current stage of COVID-19 pandemic, and these strategies seem to have been highly effective in controlling the spread of the disease. [2]

Additionally, if you look at excess mortality per country, you will find that the UK and Sweden have higher excess than other european countries that locked down sooner.

https://www.euromomo.eu/graphs-and-maps (Scroll down to Map of z-scores by country).

Update

A paper from 22. June compared statistics of the COVID-19 confirmed-cases and deaths from 10 countries in the period from January 11 to May 2 and found an effect. The size of the effect depends on the enacted policy measures.

The relationships between the social distancing measures and the statistics of COVID-19 confirmed-cases and deaths were analyzed in order to elucidate the effectiveness of the social distancing measures on the spread of COVID-19 in 10 highly infected countries. The results showed it took1–4 weeks since the highest level of social distancing measures promulgation until the daily confirmed-cases and deaths showed signs of decreasing. The effectiveness of the social distancing measures on the spread of COVID-19 was different between the 10 focused countries. This variation is due to the difference in the levels of promulgated social distancing measures, as well as the difference in the COVID-19 spread situation at the time of promulgation between the countries. [3]


[1] Koo et al., "Interventions to mitigate early spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Singapore: a modelling study", Lancet Infect Dis. 2020 Jun; 20(6): 678–688., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7158571/

[2] Taghrir et al., "Efficacy of Mass Quarantine as Leverage of Health System Governance During COVID-19 Outbreak: A Mini Policy Review", Arch Iran Med. 2020 Apr 1;23(4):265-267., https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32271600/

[3] Tran Phuoc Bao Thu et al., "Effect of the social distancing measures on the spread of COVID-19 in 10 highly infected countries", Sci Total Environ. 2020 Jun 22 : 140430., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7307990/


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  • A mathematical model and a narrative review in an Iranian journal. I think the skeptics will not be impressed by this level of "empirical" evidence. Also, subtle point here: the claim is about "lockdowns" (a not very well defined term) not about social distancing, which may be voluntary to a good degree. See also skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/47977/… – SX welcomes ageist gossip Jun 27 at 13:41
  • And there's the issue of ineffective lockdowns bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-53150808 – SX welcomes ageist gossip Jun 27 at 13:57
  • What does excess mortality prove? Is there something special about COVID that it responds to lockdowns, and nothing else does? – Acccumulation Jun 29 at 6:06
  • You are right, the lockdowns might have additional effects on mortality, e.g. less deaths due to traffic accidents or other infectious diseases. It is hard to find a measure that is independent from the number of performed tests and country specific reporting guidelines, therefore I resorted to overall mortality. Also note that most countries reported excess mortality, even if they performed an early and full lockdown. But the excess is higher in countries that did lock down late. Excess mortality is still a good measure if we remember WHY we want to curb the spread of COVID-19: to safe lives. – Georg Patscheider Jun 29 at 12:03
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The problem with this statement, as quoted, is that "lockdown" is hard to define properly. Did Peru have an early lockdown? Yes, for some definition of lockdown. Was it effective? Not terribly so, in a country where 40% of people don't have a refrigerator (thus they have to shop often) and in which some 40%-80% of grocery market sellers are estimated to having been infected, at least in some areas.

As for final part of the quoted claim...

the coronavirus pandemic peaks 40 days after the outbreak in each country. After 70 days, it will drop so much that it will soon be practically zero. And that is completely independent of what measures the government has taken in the respective country.

...the US managed to disprove it:

enter image description here

enter image description here

(that's more than 90 days in the graph.) So it seems government measures might not be inconsequential in the 70+ days outcome, but of course one cannot exclude other factors besides "lockdown" playing a role, simply from graphs like the above. (Trump famously claimed that the US is testing too much.)

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    "Testing too much" can be ruled out as the cause of the high number of confirmed cases in the US, because the US is testing less than some other countries (both relative to the number of inhabitants and relative to the number of confirmed infections). ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-testing – Georg Patscheider Jun 29 at 11:46

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