News and Commentary

How Much Damage Have The Covid Lockdowns Caused? Their Impact On Poverty, Hunger & Health
Newspaper clippings of Coronavirus pandemic
SEAN GLADWELL via Getty Images

We’re all aware of COVID-19’s horrific death toll.

Current best estimates are more than 94,000 deaths in the United States, with 40,000 in New York and New Jersey alone.

And more than 234,000 deaths in the rest of the world.

And that’s pretending that the made-up numbers coming from governments in China, Iran, Russia, North Korea (zero deaths, wow!), etc., are not made-up. (But they are.)

But how aware are you of the consequences and second-order effects of the lockdowns, which I wrote about in March and April?

Below I’ve collected a few links, from mainstream sources, that touch on the devastation wrought not by the virus, but by the lockdowns.

Yes, people were pulling back before the government ordered them to.

And yes, had the government not done enough, and had that led to a dramatically worse public health situation, people would have slowed down the economy on their own.

But not to the degree we’ve experienced for the past 15 days to slow the spread two months.

A significant amount of the harm we’re experiencing now is man-made, borne of the decisions of elected officials and unelected bureaucrats, fueled by the irresponsibility, recklessness, and unprofessionalism of our fear-and-panic news organizations.

The stories below are, I believe, the tip of the iceberg.

It’s not possible to understand how dangerous a decision it was by political leaders across the world to force billions of people effectively to not leave their homes, and to ban them from working. It’s not possible because the interconnectedness of the goods and services that we all rely on and take for granted – aka the economy – is so vast and complex as to be beyond our comprehension.

Here we go.


The economic devastation wrought by the pandemic could ultimately kill more people than the virus itself  Los Angeles Times

The United Nations predicts that a global recession will reverse a three-decade trend in rising living standards and plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day.

As for the 734 million people already there, the economic tsunami will make it harder for them to ever climb out.

In Guatemala, villagers are begging for food along highways by waving pieces of white cloth at passing drivers. In Colombia, the hungriest hang red flags from their homes in hope of donations.

Food Lines a Mile Long in America’s Second-Wealthiest State — New York Times

Many suddenly unemployed workers in one of the nation’s wealthiest states say they have been pushed to the edge of hunger, forced to ask for help for the first time in their lives.

‘Instead of Coronavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us.’ A Global Food Crisis Looms. — New York Times

National lockdowns and social distancing measures are drying up work and incomes, and are likely to disrupt agricultural production and supply routes – leaving millions to worry how they will get enough to eat. …

Already, 135 million people had been facing acute food shortages, but now with the pandemic, 130 million more could go hungry in 2020, said Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program, a United Nations agency. Altogether, an estimated 265 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by year’s end.

Millions face hunger as African cities impose coronavirus lockdowns — Reuters

Under new restrictions in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, millions who once lived on daily wages are running out of food. …

Michael Sunbola, the food bank’s president, said his organization was getting 50% more calls than usual from frantic residents. Some trek for five hours to collect food.

The devastating consequences of coronavirus lockdowns in poor countries — Vox

In El Salvador, crowds of people swarmed the capital begging for aid more than a week after the lockdown was announced. Researchers in India report that they’ve already documented hundreds of deaths caused by the lockdown, including people who died of starvation and migrants fleeing the cities for rural areas who collapsed of exhaustion or were run over on the roads.

How Coronavirus Is Exposing the World’s Fragile Food Supply Chain – and Could Leave Millions Hungry — TIME

Across the globe, harvests are going to waste because laborers are banned from working, can’t travel to farms or don’t want to work for fear of catching the virus…Transportation restrictions have made it difficult for farmers to obtain seeds and fertilizer to plant new crops, or to sent the ones they harvest to local food markets. …

The impact on food supply could be extended if the pandemic disrupts farmers’ ability to plant and produce food during the next agricultural season.

Soaring Prices, Rotting Crops: Coronavirus Triggers Global Food Crisis — Wall Street Journal

The coronavirus pandemic hit the world at a time of plentiful harvests and ample food reserves. Yet a cascade of protectionist restrictions, transport disruptions and processing breakdowns has dislocated the global food supply and put the planet’s most vulnerable regions in particular peril. …

Prices for staples such as rice and wheat have jumped in many cities, in part because of panic buying set off by export restrictions imposed by countries eager to ensure sufficient supplies at home. Trade disruptions and lockdowns are making it harder to move produce from farms to markets, processing plants and ports, leaving some food to rot in the fields. 

At the same time, more people around the world are running short of money as economies contract and incomes shrivel or disappear. Currency devaluations in developing nations that depend on tourism or depreciating commodities like oil have compounded those problems, making imported food even less affordable.

World Bank: Pandemic could force 60 million more people to live on less than $2 a day — CNN

The worsening outlook is due to the outbreak shutting down economic activity and “erasing much of the recent progress made in poverty alleviation,” World Bank President David Malpass said in a statement.

Poor Americans Hit Hardest By Job Losses Amid Lockdowns, Fed Says — New York Times

One in five people who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, the data showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said. …

While about 53 percent of those with jobs worked from home at the end of March, that was a highly educated group. More than 60 percent of workers with at least a bachelor’s degree worked completely from home, versus 20 percent of those with a high school degree or less.

Among those who had lost hours or jobs amid the pandemic, 48 percent were “finding it difficult to get by” or “just getting by,” according to the survey. …

That coronavirus lockdowns have hit disadvantaged communities hard comes as no surprise to Paul Ash, executive director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Mr. Ash said his food pantry network, which typically serves 32,000 households weekly, had seen traffic increase by about 26,000 since the crisis began. At one location, “the line stretched, when the pantry opened, around 10 city blocks,” he said. “People have to have a motivation to wait in a line like that.”

Millions Had Risen Out of Poverty. Coronavirus Is Pulling Them Back— New York Times

In a matter of mere months, the coronavirus has wiped out global gains that took two decades to achieve, leaving an estimated two billion people at risk of abject poverty. …

For the first time since 1998, the World Bank says, global poverty rates are forecast to rise. By the end of the year, half a billion people may be pushed into destitution, largely because of the pandemic, the United Nations estimates. …

Most at risk are people working in the informal sector, which employs two billion people who have no access to benefits like unemployment assistance or health care. In Bangladesh, one million garment workers like Ms. Khatun — 7 percent of the country’s work force, and many of them informally employed — lost their jobs because of the global lockdowns. …

In India, millions of migrant laborers were left unemployed and homeless overnight after the government there announced a lockdown. In parts of Africa, millions may go hungry after losing their jobs and as lockdowns snarl food aid distribution networks. In Mexico and the Philippines, remittances that families relied on have dried up as primary breadwinners lose their jobs and can no longer send money home.


Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, Heart and Stroke Patients Go Missing — New York Times

Fear of the coronavirus is leading people with life-threatening emergencies, like a heart attack or stroke, to stay home when ordinarily they would have rushed to the emergency room, preliminary research suggests. …

Emergency rooms have about half the normal number of patients, and heart and stroke units are nearly empty, according to doctors at many urban medical centers. Some medical experts fear more people are dying from untreated emergencies than from the coronavirus.

A recent paper by cardiologists at nine large medical centers estimated a 38 percent reduction since March 1 in the number patients with serious heart attacks coming in to have urgently needed procedures to open their arteries.

On a recent day at the Cleveland Clinic, there were only seven patients in the 24-bed coronary care unit. Usually the unit is full. …

The inpatient stroke unit at Stanford University Medical Center in California usually has 12 to 15 patients, said its director, Dr. Gregory Albers. On one recent day in April, there were none at all, something that had never happened. “It’s frightening,” Dr. Albers said. Yet few Covid-19 patients have been admitted to the hospital, and people needing emergency treatment have little to fear. …

It’s not just the United States. Dr. Valentin Fuster, editor of the Journal of American College of Cardiology, said he is getting so many papers from around the world on the steep decline in heart attack patients in hospitals that he simply cannot publish them all.

Doctors concerned that heart attack, stroke patients avoiding ERs due to fear of COVID-19 — ABC7 Los Angeles

Many Southern California doctors are grappling with what they call the uncounted collateral damage of COVID-19: People suffering from heart attacks and other serious ailments are not going to emergency rooms due to fear. …

At USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, overall ER patient volume is down 40% to 50%. The facility is seeing COVID-19 related cases, but emergency medicine specialist Dr. David Tashman said, “All the rest of the chest pains, abdominal pains and other complaints that we’re used to seeing on an everyday basis, really sort of, well, we’re all a little bit dumbfounded. Where did these patients go?”


Vaccine Rates Drop Dangerously as Parents Avoid Doctor’s Visits — New York Times

As parents around the country cancel well-child checkups to avoid coronavirus exposure, public health experts fear they are inadvertently sowing the seeds of another health crisis. Immunizations are dropping at a dangerous rate, putting millions of children at risk for measles, whooping cough and other life-threatening illnesses. …

PCC, a pediatric electronic health records company, gathered vaccine information from 1,000 independent pediatricians nationwide. Using the week of February 16 as a pre-coronavirus baseline, PCC found that during the week of April 5, the administration of measles, mumps and rubella shots dropped by 50 percent; diphtheria and whooping cough shots by 42 percent; and HPV vaccines by 73 percent.

“The doses that states distribute in a federally funded program for uninsured patients called Vaccines for Children have also dropped significantly since the beginning of March. The Massachusetts health department said its doses were down 68 percent in the first two weeks of April, compared with the previous year. Minnesota reported that its doses of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine dropped by 71 percent toward the end of March.

In Washington State, dozens of practices and clinics have had to reduce hours or even temporarily close. The state already had its biggest measles outbreak in nearly 30 years last year. …

The problem is global. National immunization programs in more than two dozen countries have been suspended, which could also leave more than 100 million children vulnerable, a consortium of international organizations, including UNICEF and the World Health Organization, recently reported. …

One concern is that if booster shots are missed — for diseases like measles, mumps and rubella for 4- and 5-year-olds, and tetanus and whooping cough, for 11-year-olds — immunity will begin to wane.

Routine cancer screenings have plummeted during the pandemic, medical records data show — STAT

Appointments for screenings for cancers of the cervix, colon, and breast were down between 86% and 94% in March, compared to average volumes in the three years before the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the U.S. …

Many researchers fear that deadly cancers could go undetected if screening appointments that would have normally happened in recent weeks are not soon rescheduled.

Millions of people are expected to fall ill with tuberculosis due to coronavirus lockdown — CNBC

As many as 6.3 million people are expected to develop TB as cases go undiagnosed and untreated between now and 2025, a study published by Stop TB Partnership on Wednesday showed, with 1.4 million people predicted to die during this time.

It is expected to set back global efforts to fight TB by at least five years, and possibly up to eight years.

“This situation makes me sick, because (it) is totally avoidable,” Lucica Ditiu, executive director of the Stop TB Partnership, said via email. “We just need to keep in mind that TB, as well as other diseases, keep affecting and killing people every single day, not just Covid-19.” …

Since effective medication exists to treat TB, the global response relies on testing and treating as many people as possible. …

The restrictions, which vary in their application worldwide but broadly include school closures, bans on public gatherings and social distancing, are thought to have made it much more challenging for health care workers to test vulnerable populations and for patients to access treatments.


A crisis mental-health hotline has seen an 891% spike in calls — CNN

The Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline, has seen a huge spike in calls of people seeking help recently. The national helpline, ran by the at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), provides counseling for people facing emotional distress during times of natural and human-caused disasters.

In March, the helpline saw a 338% increase in call volume compared with February, according to spokesperson with the agency. And compared to last year for the month of March, they had an 891% increase of calls.

Calls to suicide and help hotline in Los Angeles increase 8,000% due to coronavirus — ABC7 Los Angeles

Calls to a suicide and help hotline in Los Angeles went up more than 8,000% from February to March because of the novel coronavirus. According to the Orange County Register, the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services Center in Los Angeles took 22 calls to their hotline related to COVID-19 in February.

But one month later, that number soared to 1,800 calls.

Didi Hirsch operates ten locations around Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and are now hiring and training more staff to take the hotline calls.

Problem drinking soars under UK lockdown, say addiction experts — The Guardian

“Alcohol services across the UK are seeing that some of their clients are drinking much more and becoming even more chaotic in their lifestyles,” said Dr Emily Finch, an NHS addiction psychiatrist and the vice-chair of the addictions faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. …

“Over half the people referred to my team in recent weeks have been for alcohol and drug problems, but mainly alcohol problems, linked to the lockdown,” said Dr Tony Rao, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and the Maudsley hospital group, which is the NHS’s largest mental health trust. “Their problems have been worsened because they are socially cut off.” …

Alcohol sales in Britain were 30% higher than usual in March, as people prepared for, and became used to, living under the lockdown, which began on the 23rd of the month. One in five of Britons who drink – about 8.6 million people – have begun drinking more often since then, according to recent research by the charity Alcohol Change UK, which represents alcohol service providers.

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