The Texas Vice Governor Dan Patrick expressed it most blatantly. The economy is unlikely to be sacrificed to the corona crisis, the Republican told Fox News. Seniors should now risk their lives for the benefit of their country.
The US President put it somewhat more moderately. Although the number of corona cases in the United States is now increasing more rapidly than in almost any other country in the world, Donald Trump indicated that the measures to contain the virus should be relaxed before Easter if possible. Justification: An economic crisis with a long lockdown could result in many more deaths than Corona itself.
The mental attitude behind such statements is essentially the same. It reads: economy against health, growth against the dead. Even if it is true that a deep economic crash also has fatal consequences for parts of society, such offsetting is simply cynical.
The contrast that is opened here is also none. Rather, the fight against crises should be about both at the same time. To a strategy that either the number of deaths from the virus as well as reduced the crash of the economy to a minimum.
The hammer and the dance
In this context, a suggestion was made last week at the Online platform “Medium” for sensation. Its author, Tomas Pueyo, outlined an approach for what is likely to be the length of time it takes to get a coronavirus vaccine globally available.
Pueyo’s proposal consists of two parts: the hammer and the dance. The hammer is a hard, consistent lockdown for several weeks to months, in order to push the infection rate of the virus so far that each infected person infects significantly less than another person on average.
This would break the pandemic spread. And the world would gain some time to prepare for dealing with the virus in the medium term: dance. These are measures to keep the infection rate below one infection per person over a longer period of time – and at the same time restrict the economic development as little as possible.
Promising approaches for this, which already seem to be successful in countries such as South Korea or Japan, include comprehensive corona tests, the consistent wearing of respiratory masks in public spaces, as well as regular hand washing and keeping one’s distance from others. The digital tracking of infected people – albeit always within a framework in which it can represent a particular society – also seems to be a very effective means against the virus.
The measures can be prioritized according to the so-called merit order principle: priority is given to those measures that depress the infection rate the most in a particular country and at the same time have the least impact on the economy.
It is equally important, according to Pueyo, to increase the capacity of the health system in the fight against Corona. To do this, additional ventilators would have to be produced, among other things, and nursing staff in intensive care units should be increased as far as possible.
Pueyo’s suggestions have not yet passed a reality test. He himself emphasizes that he is not a virologist. He works for an e-learning platform and occasionally gives lectures for the intellectual community TED. However, the general thrust of the strategy he outlined seems plausible.
A permanent lockdown until a vaccine is developed cannot be the solution. The costs for this are likely to far exceed the financial strength of all states and institutions.
The Darwinian scenario of Trump or Texas Vice Governor Patrick, who willfully risk human lives in the service of the economy, is also no alternative. Because the exponential spread of the virus would quickly collapse health systems. Not only would corona patients die for whom ventilators are no longer free – but also many other seriously ill patients, which the clinics could not take care of because of the onslaught on corona patients. People with a stroke or heart attack, for example.
The bottom line would threaten millions of lives. That would not be ethically justifiable – and, incidentally, also not economically sensible. Because even in such a scenario, the economy is likely to suffer massively.