Yes, Lockdown Is Still Necessary

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected different people in different ways and to different extents. For some, this time has been punctuated by the horror of watching (or being unable to watch) loved ones getting ill and dying. For others, it simply means the family is around the house more often than usual, or that it’s harder to find flour at the supermarket.

However disparate these effects may be, for many people around the globe, the COVID-19 experience is that of social isolation or lockdown. These measures aim to prevent the spread of an extremely contagious virus by limiting human contact. In this manner, those who are oblivious to their own infection (or simply unable to afford taking a day off work, sick or not) will not pass the virus on to others. Lockdown measures are draconian but effective; according to Business Insider, experts affirm that Australia and New Zealand’s low case numbers of COVID-19 are due to “early national lockdown efforts, good public adherence to the rules, and widespread testing capabilities.”

Despite the proven efficacy of lockdown measures, there are many people around the world who have either rejected their implementation or called for their abatement. There are various arguments against lockdown. These can largely be split into three categories: health risks, the economy and freedom. This article will examine each of these arguments in turn.

Health Risks 

A common argument against lockdown measures pits the risk of COVID-19 against other health risks. This specious reasoning compares statistics of COVID-19 deaths, with those from other causes. According to its proponents, lockdown measures to prevent COVID-19 are completely overblown, as they do nothing to assist those with cancer, heart-disease or other more fatal health conditions (not to mention human causes of death such as murder or suicide).

While Full Fact reports it is true that fewer people have died from COVID-19 than various other diseases (such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes) this does not render COVID-19 deaths insignificant. The major differences between COVID-19 and the other health conditions mentioned is that they are not contagious. So, though more people may die from cancer, these people will not pass it on to those around them and increase the death rate. Similarly, humans cannot be infected by suicide or murder. The same cannot be said for COVID-19. If left unchecked, more people will be infected with COVID-19 and more people will die. The reason this disease is so terrifying is because it can be so easily transmitted. This is why WHO has documented over 2 million cases of a disease which was unheard of less than six months ago (and there are certainly more unconfirmed cases). This major difference means that any comparison between COVID-19 and cancer mortality is a dangerous fallacy. Moreover, these arguments rely on mortality rates, without taking the morbidity of COVID-19 into account. There will be many people who won’t die from COVID-19 but will be seriously ill with it. Furthermore, we don’t know the long-term effects of the disease, but there are signs that it could have lasting effects on lung capacity (to take one example).

Other health risk related arguments consider dangers uniquely posed by lockdown, such as mental health and domestic violence issues. The psychological and physical impacts of lockdown are shocking and must not be ignored. According to the Guardian, domestic abuse killings in the UK have more than doubled “amid Covid-19 lockdown.” Al Jazeera has reported a “domestic violence surge” in India and TIME writes that in the US, “the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that a growing number of callers say that their abusers are using COVID-19 as a means of further isolating them from their friends and family.” This does not even take into account other potentially devastating and long-term mental health impacts of the lockdown.

These are terrible impacts which need to be addressed. Yet, without wishing to minimize the import of these problems, we must also take into account what these issues would be like without the lockdown. Domestic violence may be alleviated in some cases by dispensing with lockdown measures, yet a 2014 study published in the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice found that “Families who… experience a decrease in their financial status, and the stress triggered by the crisis may place them at greater risk for family violence.” This pandemic will have stressful economic impacts (with or without a lockdown) which could potentially lead to another spike in domestic violence. It will also be interesting (and probably depressing) to see whether other stress factors associated with the pandemic will cause a surge in domestic violence. In addition, the psychological factors associated with lockdown are likely to be overshadowed by those which would be caused by high infection rates of COVID-19. In cities and nations where the virus has not been contained there are shocking impacts such as the need for mass graves in the US, or doctors needing to choose which patients to treat in Italy. These events can cause feelings of grief, terror and alienation, all of which can be dastardly for mental health. Although lockdown does produce various health risks, the health risks posed by not having a lockdown are even greater on the whole.

The Economy

Pundits from both the left and right of politics are deploring the impacts of lockdown on the economy. Publications are seizing upon reports of impending economic depression and suggesting that these may be worse than the virus itself. The Hill points to “the link between unemployment and suicide.” Right-wing Texas Governor Dan Patrick pleaded that Americans “Don’t sacrifice the economy” and asserted his willingness “to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren.” Haaretz argues that neoliberal assumptions about separations between the state and the market during lockdown means that “to save lives today, society is “willing” to sacrifice the lives of many tomorrow.” An article in the Sydney Morning Herald expresses pity for “the mums and dads… the sole traders and businesses, the musos [musicians] and artists, the relationships and busted dreams that can’t just bounce back.” The same article actively deplores the greediness, power, and destruction of “would-be COVID winners.”

Lockdown does, and will continue to, have adverse impacts on the economy. For example, the New Zealand treasury has estimated that if the country were to maintain the current level of lockdown, “the GDP would drop by 15%” compared with a slightly less stringent level. The International Labour Organisation estimates that 195 million jobs will be lost due to COVID-19. There is however an important distinction between jobs lost due to COVID-19 and jobs lost due to lockdown. Not all job losses associated with the pandemic are due to lockdown measures. Illness and deaths caused by unrestrained outbreaks of the virus will also adversely impact the global economy. In a Washington Post article, one economist argued that high infection and mortality rate in the US “also means the economic impact is likely to be more severe than in some other places.” These high rates of mortality and infection have been spurred by makeshift and uncomprehensive social distancing measures, in addition to an overcrowded and overwhelmed hospital system. These are exactly the issues which are prevented by efficient lockdown policies. Economically, this is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. The global economy will suffer with or without a lockdown, but at least in the case of a lockdown we will not have to also deal with the illness and death of major portions of the population. 


Lockdown may limit the number of COVID-19 cases, but it also limits our liberty. People experiencing lockdown are no longer allowed the freedom of movement they once enjoyed. Nor are they still free to see family and friends or even (in Australia at least) allowed to undergo elective surgeries. For many, this is reason enough to halt lockdown and resume normal life. This is particularly common in the US, where right-wing protests “of social distancing restrictions in states with stay-at-home orders” have been encouraged by the president, according to The New York Times. President Trump’s tweets calling to ‘LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” highlight the perceived lack of freedom in places with lockdowns.

Yet this argument only considers positive freedom (i.e. the freedom to) without contemplating negative freedom (freedom from). Of course, those impacted by lockdowns are unable to do the things mentioned above. Lockdown, however, is about negative freedom. With effective lockdown measures in place, we are free from overfilled hospitals and, largely, we are free from the risk of contracting COVID-19. Of course, these risks cannot be entirely eliminated, especially in nations where lockdown measures were implemented later but the argument still stands. The better the lockdown measures, the less likely individuals are likely to be infected, thus greater freedom from COVID-19.


The issues and hardships associated with lockdown are undeniable. Few people (if any) wish to be restricted to their homes in an intangible battle against a viral foe. Yet, early numbers from China, Italy, Spain and the US reveal that the effects of not locking down or ‘flattening the curve’ are even worse. We will undeniably have issues after any lockdown is rolled back, yet these issues will be easier to face in societies less ravaged by illness and death. It will not last forever, but for now lockdown is essential.