Broad COVID Lockdowns Were 'Hugely Damaging,' Top Scientist Mark Woolhouse Says

A leading epidemiologist has criticized early pandemic policies of broad, anti-COVID lockdowns, calling it a "lazy" strategy that was "hugely damaging."

In his upcoming book, Mark Woolhouse, an infectious disease expert at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said Britain's national lockdowns had unnecessarily harmed young people's lives and left "a record-breaking mountain of public debt."

The professor said the British Government committed several errors, which included growing the country's public debt to cover its furlough scheme and enforcing lockdowns on age groups that were less at risk of dying from COVID-19.

"We did serious harm to our children and young adults who were robbed of their education, jobs and normal existence, as well as suffering damage to their future prospects, while they were left to inherit a record-breaking mountain of public debt," Woolhouse wrote in the book titled The Year the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir.

According to The Guardian, which first previewed the book, Woolhouse said national lockdowns—of which there were three in England—were "a lazy solution to a novel coronavirus epidemic, as well as a hugely damaging one."

Across the United States, a patchwork of restrictions on social distancing peaked in late March and early April 2020, when more than 310 million Americans were under directives such as "shelter in place" or "stay at home."

On Britain, Woolhouse added: "All this to protect the NHS [National Health Service] from a disease that is a far, far greater threat to the elderly, frail and infirm than to the young and healthy.

"We were mesmerized by the once-in-a-century scale of the emergency and succeeded only in making a crisis even worse. In short, we panicked. This was an epidemic crying out for a precision public health approach and it got the opposite."

British and American leaders have been eager to avoid more lockdowns of late, with U.S. President Joe Biden having in November ruled out another round.

'Parks Closed' sign hangs on gate.
The entrance for the basketball court at Dr. Lena Edwards Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, on April 12, 2020. is blocked with a sign saying, "Parks Closed Until Further Notice" after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issues an order to close all State Parks. Professor Mark Woolhouse has been critical of the U.K. government's decision to enforce a national lockdown earlier in the pandemic. Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

While Woolhouse was critical of national lockdowns, he rejected calls for a fully opened society, particularly at the start of the pandemic when treatments and vaccines were unavailable.

The epidemiologist hit out at academics who had proposed the controversial "Barrington Declaration," which put forward that the less vulnerable "build up immunity through virus infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk."

"This would have led to an epidemic far larger than the one we eventually experienced in 2020," Woolhouse wrote. "It also lacked a convincing plan for protecting the more vulnerable members of society, the elderly and those who are immuno-compromised."

Instead, Woolhouse said the focus should have been on the protecting the vulnerable, including those in care homes, where there were initially frequent reports of centers being underequipped with protective kit.

Woolhouse added the U.K. Government should have spent thousands of pounds per household to provide regular testing and introduce COVID-safe measures for people who were shielding from the virus, which he claims would have cost less than what was spent during the pandemic, The Guardian reports.

Newsweek has contacted the U.K. Government and Dr. Woolhouse for comment.

The U.K. estimates the cost of government COVID-19 measures has been between £315 billion ($426.2 billion) and £410 billion ($554.7 billion), which equates to about £4,700 ($6,359) to £6,100 ($8,254) per person.

Photo of man walking near closed store
A man walks past a closed down shop while shopping on May 27, 2021 in Leeds, England. Professor Mark Woolhouse was critical of the U.K. Government's response to COVID. Nathan Stirk/Getty Images/Getty