Coronavirus News Asia

Are we there yet? – Asia Times


Like children in the backseat wailing “Are we there yet,” Americans are getting antsy for the coronavirus shutdowns to end. After a certain number of weeks of self-quarantining, stir-craziness starts mutating into something that can feel like just plain craziness.

The unfortunate millions who have lost a job or a business as the economy craters are even more eager to get this thing over. It was shocking to see photos of thousands of cars lined up at a food pantry in San Antonio. Many of these people were working hard and getting by until this lightning struck.

It’s tempting, then, to see the shutdowns as a misguided tradeoff between public health and economics. Yes, some say, Covid-19 kills, but so does extreme poverty. Besides, lots of people are dying from other causes – cancer, car accidents, heart disease, even flu – and we aren’t shutting down the economy for them. And aren’t most of us likely to get this disease eventually anyway – and if so, why wait?

The problem with this thinking is that there are compelling reasons for many parts of the country to wait. Whatever the Covid-19 mortality rate ends up being, the disease spreads so fast it can overwhelm the medical system.

Waiting will space out the cases, enabling the system to save more patients. Yes, many of us will eventually be infected, but if too many of us are infected at the same time we’ll swamp the hospitals.

Waiting will also give doctors a better understanding of how to treat the disease. In New York, for example, they’ve already learned to rely less on intubation, finding instead that “some patients, by taking oxygen and rolling onto their sides or on their bellies, have quickly returned to normal levels.”

Are the additional lives saved by the shutdowns worth the cost in lost jobs and ruined finances? The Wall Street Journal’s estimable economics columnist, Greg Ip, has sketched some plausible cost-benefit analyses defending the tradeoff.

Assuming a human life is worth $10 million, as federal regulators do, and using estimates from epidemiological and economic studies, Ip says the value of the lives saved by the mitigation measures we’ve taken exceed the economic cost by trillions of dollars.


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