We begin with the latest research on lockdowns. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, panic sent the U.S. and other societies into a restrictive lockdown mode. But not every country took the same approach. And now armed with hard data, scientists are addressing the question: what worked and what didn’t? Jay Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. He spoke out against lockdowns from the start and is one of the researchers in a recent study that found they didn’t help.
Prof. Jay Bhattacharya: So, the way that we looked at this is we looked at places in particular, South Korea and Sweden, which in the early days of the epidemic did not put in place, mandatory business closures and shelter-in-place orders. And what happened is there's no difference in the rate of spread in the early days of the epidemic. If you compare the group of countries that had less restrictive versus more restrictive orders. The lockdowns, the very, very restrictive lockdowns did no better than less restrictive policies.
Sharyl: Other studies claim that millions of lives were saved by the lockdowns. How could there be such different findings within science?
Bhattacharya: Yeah. So, if you look at those other studies, most of them are the result of modeling. So these models, essentially, they are an unrealistic depiction of how people actually act in the real world. The rolling way really to do this is by looking at real-world evidence of have the lockdowns worked. And now I think there's something like on the Order of 30 of some studies that they concluded way we do.
Sharyl: At the beginning of the pandemic, public health experts were assuming that Coronavirus, COVID-19 was far more lethal than it turned out to be. What were the numbers they were talking about before we knew more? And what's it looking like to be now?
Bhattacharya: So in, I think it was late February or early March, the World Health Organization released a number that said that the case fatality rate, that is the proportion of people who would've died with cases of COVID would be 3.4%, three to four out of a hundred. The death rate from COVID, is something like 0.2 to 0.3%. And for old people it's the survival rate is something like 95%, if you're over the age of 70. If you're under the age of 70, it's a strikingly it's 99.95%, five in 10,000 death rate. It's a very, very high survivability if you're under the age of 70.
Sharyl: So to be clear at one time, Dr. Fauci testified to Congress that COVID was 10 times deadlier than the flu.
Bhattacharya: I mean, I think it was a very misleading statement. The discrepancy is that those early estimates ignored the fact that there were, for every single person who was identified with symptoms of COVID, there were scores of other people that got the infection that never showed up because they had very mild infection. The policy implications were enormous and they created a panic I think, when Fauci and the World Health Organization sort of push those numbers out, which it was a big mistake.
Sharyl: Regarding this pandemic, are you concerned about what happens to scientists today or science, if for whatever reason they're contrary to what other scientists or the government or the media or politicians want them to say?
Bhattacharya: Yeah, I think I'm really concerned about that. There's been censorship of people who don't agree with the government or with public health authorities, false accusations of conflicts of interest, there's calls for censorship within science. Anytime someone expresses a view that's contrary to what Dr. Fauci says, they're accused of saying dangerous things.
Bhattacharya: There is an enormous number of scientists, epidemiologists, and other people who don't agree with the orthodoxy of the policy, the lockdown orthodoxy, but were very uncomfortable saying so for fear of being smeared. I think science is going to have to learn to address that, this sort of group-think mentality and this mentality that attacks outside of it. The science can't proceed, science can't work, unless there is the possibility of open discussion without fear of reprisal.
Sharyl (on camera): Bhattacharya helped write a strategy called the Barrington Declaration, which has since been endorsed by thousands of scientists and medical professionals. They call lockdowns a serious health threat and endorse a focused strategy: better protection for the vulnerable while people at low risk get immunity thru natural infection.