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Relaxing restrictions early would be stupid, it’s that simple

·Contributing Editor
·5-min read
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: A COVID -19 Clinic at St Vincent's hospital on March 18, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 18: A COVID -19 Clinic at St Vincent's hospital on March 18, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Economists are a particularly clever bunch.

When they make forecasts about economic growth or unemployment, it seems like they just make a guess and back it up with some logical argument.

Not true.

Economists employ highly sophisticated mathematical models to make all sorts of forecasts to help you get a better sense of something simple like: how hard is my job search going to be?

Okay, so that’s the good side.

The not-so-good side is that some economists, recently, have been extending their ‘models’ so as to weigh into the debate about relaxing social distancing laws.

This is a mistake.

But it’s more than that. Economists run the risk of fuelling ideas among the public that could lead to a spike in coronavirus-related deaths, and an even greater economic disaster.

The great debate

Have you ever thought of what the reaction may have been to extreme policy measures to prevent 9/11 for happening?

If the sorts of security measures employed now at airports were rolled out back then there would have been an outcry. Why? Because folks hate to be inconvenienced if they don’t see an obvious reason for it.

It took a disaster and a humanitarian tragedy for these measures to be widely accepted around the world – even though employing these measures earlier may have prevented the disaster in the first place.

Right now, Australians aren’t just being inconvenienced, their whole lives are being turned upside down.

For some, the personal and financial losses will feel all too great.

We have already seen, and tragically, will likely see more incidences of domestic violence and suicide as a result of this economic shut down.

Some economists argue this is a valid reason to start gradually lifting restrictions and social distancing measures now, or soon-ish.

I understand this. The economy and millions of livelihoods have taken a hit, and coronavirus cases seem to be levelling out.

It appears ring-fencing measures are working.

But what we’re also seeing are the results of an effective policy of prevention. And that’s a tough thing to both analyse and feel a sense of accomplishment about – because we don’t know what the alternative looks like (for Australia).

What the debate is missing

Think about this scenario. I’m 30 years old. I have immunodeficiency. I suddenly become very ill and need to go to the hospital.

The only problem is there are no beds for me because the hospital has been overwhelmed by serious coronavirus cases.

Or perhaps I have kidney failure and need dialysis. Sorry, no support available there.

Or what if I’ve suffered a stroke? Sorry, wait your turn.

I’m not a doctor, so I’m not going to enter a debate as to how and why hospitals will buckle under the pressure of an enormous spike in coronavirus cases.

What I can say though I this: if you think the economy is suffering now, wait until the hospital system is completely overwhelmed by both coronavirus and regular patients.

The argument for a relaxation of restrictions points out at there are no measures for the ill-health that has resulted from mass unemployment and business failures.

That’s true. Can’t argue with that.

However, as you relax restrictions (in the current climate) the economy will improve a little, then cases will likely increase and, unless you relax restrictions again, more and more people will succumb to the virus.

Eventually the health system will be overwhelmed and many deaths will follow.

What you’re likely to see at this point is what we’re already seeing in the United States and Britain: mass unemployment and Depression-like economic conditions.

Not worth the risk

Do you see what I’m trying to get at here?

The reason why the coronavirus health crisis has stabilised is because social distancing is working.

The price we pay for this is a massive economic contraction. You can’t measure this, and indeed the ‘human cost’ of this is immeasurable and tragic.

Ease restrictions though, and you have an even bigger health crisis with this immeasurable economic cost too.

It’s bloody hard to accept such heart-breaking economic conditions when coronavirus is not bearing down on us, but what we’re currently experiencing is less of an overall burden than the alternative.

The message from the medical profession, which is filtering through all layers of government, is crystal clear: we can’t relax about coronavirus until the threat has passed.

The threat passing may come in the form of a vaccine, or zero cases being recorded for several weeks. Indeed, the government, as you might expect, is already working on how and when to relax social distancing rules in an effort to get sport and workplaces back up and running again (knowing this point in time is coming soon).

It must be said though we are playing a very dangerous game by prematurely entertaining the idea of allowing a deadly virus free rein among our communities.


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