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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2020

David Miles
Professor of Economics, Imperial College, London. E-mail:
Mike Stedman
RES Consortium. E-mail:
Adrian Heald
The School of Medicine, University of Manchester. E-mail:


This paper analyses the costs and benefits of lockdown policies in the face of COVID-19. What matters for people is the quality and length of lives and one should measure costs and benefits in terms of those things. That raises difficulties in measurement, particularly in valuing potential lives saved. We draw upon guidelines used in the UK for public health decisions, as well as other measures, which allow a comparison between health effects and other economic effects. We look at evidence on the effectiveness of past severe restrictions applied in European countries, focusing on the evidence from the UK. The paper considers policy options for the degree to which restrictions are eased. There is a need to normalise how we view COVID because its costs and risks are comparable to other health problems (such as cancer, heart problems, diabetes) where governments have made resource decisions for decades. The lockdown is a public health policy and we have valued its impact using the tools that guide health care decisions in the UK public health system. The evidence suggests that the costs of continuing severe restrictions in the UK are large relative to likely benefits so that a substantial easing in general restrictions in favour of more targeted measures is warranted.

Research Article
© National Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2020

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The authors thank two anonymous referees and Jagjit Chadha for many helpful comments on an earlier draft.



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