How Did the COVID Pandemic Response Harm Society? A Global Evaluation and State of Knowledge Review (2020-21)

119 Pages Posted: 22 May 2023 Last revised: 29 May 2023

See all articles by Kevin Bardosh

Kevin Bardosh

University of Washington; University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh Medical School

Date Written: May 14, 2023


Early in the Covid pandemic concerns were raised that lockdown and other non-pharmaceutical interventions would cause significant multidimensional harm to society. This paper comprehensively evaluates the global state of knowledge on these adverse social impacts, with an emphasis on their type and magnitude during 2020 and 2021. A harm framework was developed spanning 10 categories: health, economy, income, food security, education, lifestyle, intimate relationships, community, environment and governance. The analysis synthesizes 600 publications with a focus on meta-analyses, systematic reviews, global reports and multi-country studies. This cumulative academic research shows that the collateral damage of the pandemic response was substantial, wide-ranging and will leave behind a legacy of harm for hundreds of millions of people in the years ahead. Many original predictions are broadly supported by the research data including: a rise in non-Covid excess mortality, mental health deterioration, child abuse and domestic violence, widening global inequality, food insecurity, lost educational opportunities, unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, social polarization, soaring debt, democratic backsliding and declining human rights. Young people, individuals and countries with lower socioeconomic status, women and those with pre-existing vulnerabilities were hit hardest. Societal harms should challenge the dominant mental model of the pandemic response: it is likely that many Covid policies caused more harm than benefit, although further research is needed to address knowledge gaps and explore policy trade-offs, especially at a country-level. Planning and response for future global health emergencies must integrate a wider range of expertise to account for and mitigate societal harms associated with government intervention.

Funding Information: This project was supported by Collateral Global, a UK registered Charity (No. 1195125), dedicated to researching, understanding and communicating the effectiveness and collateral impacts of the mandatory NPIs taken by governments worldwide in response to the Covid pandemic.

Conflict of Interests: I have no competing interests to declare.

Keywords: Covid-19 pandemic, global public health, social science, public policy, evaluation

Suggested Citation

Bardosh, Kevin, How Did the COVID Pandemic Response Harm Society? A Global Evaluation and State of Knowledge Review (2020-21) (May 14, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Kevin Bardosh (Contact Author)

University of Washington ( email )

Seattle, WA 98195
United States

University of Edinburgh - Edinburgh Medical School ( email )

United Kingdom

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