by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 11
March 2021
HerdWatch
11:30

Effect of the pandemic or lockdown? FT gets into a twist

Two worldviews clash again
by Freddie Sayers
Credit: FT

“Covid pandemic delivers falling birth rates in heart of Europe” runs the headline in today’s Financial Times. How much difference a word makes. In the strange politics of this past year, whether you ascribe a negative effect to the “pandemic” or “lockdowns” has become a sign of your position on the policy, a whole worldview. If the headline was “Lockdowns deliver falling birth rates,” what a different atmosphere that story would have.

The article goes through the shocking birth statistics coming out of European countries (reported on UnHerd three days ago) showing a dramatic drop in pregnancies from the beginning of the lockdowns. It begins: “It is not just that many more people are dying as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In several countries, considerably fewer are being born.”

And yet the uncertainty whether to ascribe the effects to lockdowns or the pandemic is observable throughout the article. The stand-first of the digital edition (no doubt written by someone other than the authors) refers to “sharp declines in babies being born 9 months or more on from lockdowns in France, Italy and Spain,” and the authors conclude in the article itself that the 23% drop in Spain’s fertility “highlights the likely impact of Spain’s harsh 2020 lockdown, which was at its toughest in March and April, nine months before the precipitous fall in births.”

Scandinavian and Northern European countries seem to be much less badly affected by the plummeting birth rate. Sweden recorded a 6.4% drop for January, and the Netherlands and Finland both recorded slight increases for the month.

“Covid-19 did not hit the Nordic nations and parts of northern Europe as hard as some other countries, particularly early on, which may explain why birth rates were higher there at the start of this year,” the authors conclude.

But if you take the numbers of Covid-19 deaths per million recorded for the period when January-born babies would have been conceived (early April to early May 2020), Sweden was actually worse-hit than Italy during that period and roughly parallel with France and Spain. Famously, however, they were not in a lockdown.

The Netherlands’ lockdown at that stage was less stringent than the Mediterranean countries, according to OurWorldInData’s “Stringency Index”, but they were also recording fewer Covid deaths. As for Finland, it is bottom of both the stringency index and the deaths per million charts for the countries mentioned (including Sweden) so it’s hard to disaggregate.

We should not be surprised to see a pandemic have an impact on birth rates. The Spanish Flu led to a sharp drop in birth rates, and high mortality events like famines, earthquakes and heatwaves typically have a similar impact. Normally they bounce back.

But when the effect is clearly a combination of “the pandemic” and “lockdowns” it tells you a lot about a publication which one they choose to lead with.

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LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago

The anything bad that happened was the fault of the pandemic or not enough lockdown argument will sadly win in wider society.

The majority who’ve supported all of the restrictions are now complicit in them. Most of the complicit will happily go along with a story that lets them off the hook, it’s entirely natural. In this case the government and coordinated media messenging makes it very easy for people not to question this story.

Some more honest lockdowners might argue that on balance all of the restictions were worth it – but there are no remotely accurate figures of lives saved by lockdown, or lives lost because of lockdown. No one could agree on a philosophical model through which to discuss them. Some might argue that the death of 1 person by suicide is unacceptable to save 1000 from Covid, others might argue that 999 deaths caused by lockdown are worth it – if they save 1000 lives.

Last edited 1 year ago by LUKE LOZE
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

As I said yesterday, this is the same story as with anthropogenic global warming (agw). At first there was discussion, then it was perceived as disingenuous to be a gainsayer, finally it was evil if you didn’t agree. As you say, whatever UnHerd thinks, the majority are complicit in encouraging the lockdowns.
Some 0n this site will see incompetence, others will see (or suggest) conspiracy theories – see Mr Lekas. Nobody will believe any statistics because they have been bent in all shapes over the last year – stats are now the enemy.
The main thing is to avoid another bite next autumn – – Ithink one is definitely on the cards.

Adi Dule
Adi Dule
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The problem is that if you do not believe conspiracy you have to believe that the people making this decisions are totally idiots. I am not among those that believe that the virus do not exist or that vaccines are evil. I cannot argue that this is a conspiracy – it may be just the spirit of the times, but the fact is that we have been bombarded with propaganda, not facts and we have been now dragged into strange debates and enforced to use strange made up language (new normal, circuit breakers, bubbles, effect of opening of the non essential shops in the R no, and you name it). And then it is the pattern – you have mass-media frontal attack, denial of any common sense debate, panic creation in the masses which then pushes governments to pretend doing something. And lastly you have the direction. Where all this is leading?! Total de-humanisation, virtualisation of human experience, reduction of human contacts, mass control, destruction of free speech and dissent, destruction of small and medium business and rise of big tech, transformation of supply from a real one to a virtual one for the plebs (from theatres and cinemas to netflix). Take the banning of the travel – do you think that having to buy three tests and having to pay a penalty deter a wealthy person from traveling?

Hilary LW
Hilary LW
1 year ago
Reply to  Adi Dule

Well said!

Anyone using a little bit of thought – rather than simply accepting that those in authority must know best and are content not to think for themselves – cannot fail to notice the massive inconsistencies and contradictions in the mainstream narrative. So, as so much do to with this ‘pandemic’ simply doesn’t make sense, it’s natural to look for answers, for some pattern in the chaos, for some explanation that just might make sense.
And this brings us to theories of either complete and utter c***k-up, on a global scale, or conspiracy. Again on a global scale.

According to Dutch philosopher Mieke Mosmuller (look her up on YouTube, she’s great) we as humans are not good at thinking autonomously – we seek consensus to make ourselves feel more secure. Instead of thoughts, that arise internally, we prefer to rely on opinions, which arise externally, given to us. And the media is a powerful opinion former of course. She quotes from an article dating from before the First World War about the typical newspaper reader: that they ‘believe everything, and forget everything’. The same goes for readers of the FT or watchers of TV news. With few exceptions they believe without question, because they forget the contradictory information given even a few days before, or even from their own experience. Certainly they don’t remember history. So essential connections can’t be made.

And they don’t seem willing to look ahead either. As you say, where is this all leading? It’s so obvious if you ask that question. But people have been told to focus on the pandemic, only on the pandemic, and to look no further than that. Truly worrying.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Astonishing to be complicit in your own imprisonment, in the failure of your own company, in the collapse of your own income, in the lack of diagnosis of your own cancer…

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Fair point. Impossible to argue about whether birth rates would have risen or fallen without restrictions because there have been restrictions.
You could argue that, if there really is a pandemic, then the restrictions were a reaction to the pandemic so any changes to birth rates resulting from restrictions are indirectly related to the pandemic.
There are some who will argue that the whole pandemic is a conspiracy designed to lower birth rates. Some will even argue it was done deliberately to lower birth rates in the West to hasten the collapse of civilisation and the over-running of the anglo-american sphere by Muslim hordes inspired (for some reason) by Bill Gates.
We don’t even know if the reduction in birth rates is due to the inability of people to physically have reproductive relations because of restrictions or if it’s due to people deciding now is not necessarily a good time to start a family.

Last edited 1 year ago by Last Jacobin
Jan Greeff
Jan Greeff
1 year ago

The ongoing trend to compare covid-19 with the 1918 Spanish flu is ridiculous. That was a real pandemic, covid is merely a means to an end being propagated by the manipulated mainstream media.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  Jan Greeff

The average age of death during the time of the Spanish Flu pandemic was 28, while I believe the average age of death from or with Covid is 82.4.

Rickard Gardell
Rickard Gardell
1 year ago

You should look at excess deaths statistics from eurostat, which is a more accurate reflection of what actually happened in terms of covid related deaths as many nations classify and record covid deaths differently. When you do that you see that sweden’ excess deaths are actually much less in relative terms than recorded covid deaths would imply. Sweden have only half of UKs excess deaths for example(in % points over normal).

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
1 year ago

They had less lockdown deaths

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

You just can’t compare. Smaller population, better health system, lower obesity rates, younger population. These comparisons have been flying around for months but no-one has the complete picture.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Saying you can’t compare, means you can’t compare anywhere – there’s always differences. Sweden for example has harder longer winters and higher urbanisation rates than the UK – both heavily linked with higher Covid rates.

For the libertarians alas Sweden is a poor example, it’s certainly not a Texan style free country – and the reason Sweden avoided lockdown is because the decision is explicitly & legally up to the ‘expert’. The UK lockdown is at least partly down to mob rule/populism/democracy. I do say this as someone who thinks that the Scandi Social Democrat model is the least worst way, but it would require a different population than the UK – not just the petty right, but from the left wing too – and probably more homogeneous.

Last edited 1 year ago by LUKE LOZE
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Culture is a key point, one that people are often scared to bring up, but it matters. A homogeneous population is far more likely to buy into wide-reaching initiatives than one that very diverse.

Last edited 1 year ago by Alex Lekas
TIM HUTCHENCE
TIM HUTCHENCE
1 year ago
Be careful with excess deaths data - from what I have have seen they don't adjust for population increases. When you look a death rates % over the last 5 years (ie adjusted for population) Sweden has noll- excess deaths last year. UK has 62,000 (1.01% vs 0.92% average) 
TIM HUTCHENCE
TIM HUTCHENCE
1 year ago

When you adjust for population (which excess deaths data does not), and use a % death rate of 0.92% as the 5 year average, the UK had 62,000 excess deaths last year.
Sweden I think had noll-
2015 602782 65110000 0.93%
2016 597206 65648100 0.91%
2017 607172 66040200 0.92%
2018 616014 66435600 0.93%
2019 615455 67530172 0.91%
2020 686000 67886011 1.01%

David Slade
David Slade
1 year ago

This verbal obfuscation will probably happen increasingly in reporting about the humanitarian catastrophe that lockdowns/new normal dogma has caused.
All of this hideousness will be blamed – in a slight of hand worthy of a later day Goebbels – on the virus instead; as if the virus some how dictates that you simply have to attempt a misanthropic crusade to put humanity (and all associated activities like reproduction) in stasis.
As for Spanish flu, I dare say we will soon learn that Sars -CoV 2 has retro causal properties and is consequently also responsible for causing this as well.
I expect a graph from Chris Whitty to conclusively demonstrate this any day soon.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

I’m inclined to think that this is a feature, given not just the lockdowns but population control figures like Bill Gates asserting themselves into the discussion. Since eugenics is not going to fly, these people needed another means of impacting the population. Well, forced isolation is one approach, at least in the West and parts of Asia. Of course, those are not the places with higher birth rates, so we’ll see if this particular result was smart or a case of being too clever by half.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

+10 for Freddie

Jim McNeillie
Jim McNeillie
1 year ago

I would have thought lock-downs should have increased the birth rate. 😉
Perhaps the cause is neither lock-down nor pandemic, but the fear-demic: i.e., “is is safe to be pregnant in times of virus threat?”.

connieperkins9999
connieperkins9999
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim McNeillie

Lockdowns are sex killers. Seeing your partner in PJs for a year is not hot.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  Jim McNeillie

Perhaps many couples practiced hands, face, space in bed and so intimacy was out of the question.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
1 year ago

Apparently this is what Mr Corbyn describes as the right wing press.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Goodman

I don’t think the FT is promoting socialism at the moment and it generally takes the view that the capitalist way is the way to run the world. So, yes. It is right wing.

Paul Goodman
Paul Goodman
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

There is spectrum on the left; from the “throwback” Bolsheviks like like Corbyn (abandoned by all but the terminally stupid), on the one hand and the anti Clause 4 left like Blair and Mandelson all virtue signalling, worthiness and hating Tories. The FT is the latter. Along with the Times and (terrorist supporting) Grauniad. I don’t count the comics.

steve eaton
steve eaton
1 year ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

LOL…So favoring Capitalism is now considered ‘Right Wing”?

Alan Hawkes
Alan Hawkes
1 year ago

It’s not as if birth-rates hadn’t been falling in Europe anyway, pre-Covid. The article should have read, “Covid pandemic /lockdown delivers further fall in birth-rates in the heart of Europe.” Post-Covid the problem will remain, how do we continue our benefits system with a falling ratio of earners to pensioners?

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago

Personally I welcome a reduction in the world’s population. Preferably by choice, rather than pestilence or war.