I rarely agree with Trump…but he’s right (for the wrong reasons) to call to open up the economy. The ugly truth is this: we are currently sacrificing the Young (say Under 60s) for the benefit of the Old (say Over 60s). Progressing from the current lockdowns should address this. Here’s how.
The Old/Young Dichotomy
Let’s consider a few basics:
- Despite the headlines and our fears, very few people actually catch CV. In the worst case (US), even 1 million CV cases is only 0.3% of the population. Three people in a thousand…in total.
- Almost all the deaths from CV are Old or sick people (90+%). ‘Saving lives’ means trying to save old people’s lives.
- Most CV cases are directly related to international travel, not community transmission (<10%). Stop international travel and you stop CV spread.
- Most of the CV cases are Young people, but mostly very mild (80+%), so the health risk for Young people is quite low.
- Most of the job losses are Young people. In the US alone, already over 20 million people have lost their jobs. Although a ‘staggering’ 40,000 have died, that’s 500 (Young) job losses per (Old) death.
- Young people who still have jobs now have to work AND mind their children/home school them without the social support systems of child care, schools or grandparents.
- Young people will have to pay eventually for the huge sums of government borrowing being given out to reduce short-term unemployment, so they will have long term economic costs , which will curtail their future opportunities
- There is virtually no economic cost for Old people. Through reduced spending, there may be an economic gain! Retirees view it as a nice holiday!
- The biggest costs to Old people from lockdown are social isolation from family and friends, cancelled travel and an inability to help through grandchild minding or volunteering.
From most perspectives, Young/working people are suffering while Old people are being protected and are not really suffering .
Opening up the economy more quickly would reduce costs to the Young while increasing the risks for the Old. The risks seem worth taking, especially given the massive long term government debt being accumulated the longer the crisis goes on.
How to Open Up the Economy
The way the economy is opened up needs to optimise the risk from CV continuing/reemerging while rebuilding the economy. How might this be done?
- Ensure CV controls are in place first
Four items seem to stand out:
- Continue to ban international travel. This has been the key driver in all countries.
- Use large scale testing. Germany, South Korea, Singapore seem to have been the leaders, achieving low hospitalisation and death rates.
- Use tracing apps so that, when a CV case appears, tracking and testing contacts can be quickly done, keeping the reinfection rate low.
- Compulsory isolation of CV cases for 14 days to minimise CV transfer.
- Open the economy to the Young
As their risk is low, they should be encouraged to work, travel and play domestically, using a staged approach to minimise the chances of returning to a lockdown through massive new infections resulting in hospitalisations. This might work as follows:
- Encourage childcare and schools to return to physical operations, not mainly online. This facilitates workers returning to work.
- Allow all types of businesses and organisations to open where they can demostrate they can operate on physical distancing principles.
- Organisations could only employ Young staff (under 60). Older workers would have to be replaced, at least for the short term.
- Old People Would Remain Physically Restricted
Unless Old people could be shown to be essential to workers’ lives (eg grandparents could mind children if it was essential for the parents to be able to work), they would remain under the ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions at first, since they are at greatest risk.
The New ‘Normal’
Under this approach, the Young would be able to return to work, much of the economy could resume more quickly than planned, while the risk to the Old would not be greatly increased. As an ‘Old’ person, this solution doesn’t suit me…but it does seem a fairer balance of costs than we currently have. The Donald is right…