Paul Christensen posted a comment and directed my attention to something he had written in the SCMP
Do the benefits of the Covid-19 economic shutdown justify the costs? This is a fundamental question that governments need to address, and they should address it explicitly, regardless of how uncomfortable it may make people feel.
In his comment he said that “Much more rational analysis is needed on whether the years of poverty that will result for many people from this lockdown are worth the lives saved.”
Rational analysis like this?
An argument for lockdowns is that the alternative would be an overloaded hospital system. But this shouldn’t be a factor that overrides all others.
There is no doubt that a rigorous triage system could be put in place to keep the hospital system functioning for cases where larger numbers of QALYs are at stake. If society keeps running, then the government could spend the tax revenue it receives on expanding hospital capacity so that fewer hard decisions have to be made when, say, Covid-25 comes along.
Yes, sure, a rigorous triage system would solve the problem.
And after a few thousand (mainly old) people had died we'd definitely spend more money on hospitals and facilities and nurses so we’d be ready next time.
No, of course we wouldn’t. Both in the US and the UK (and elsewhere, no doubt) there have been exercises done to test readiness for a pandemic. And governments have decided not to spend the money needed to be fully prepared. Hospitals in the UK were running at close to full capacity when it is recommended that they should be operating at around 85% in order to be able to handle any emergencies. That, of course, is because of lack of money.
Currently hospitals in most developed countries are just about coping, but many staff are exhausted from over-work, and tough decisions have to be made about who can be transferred to Intensive Care.
This is with lockdowns in place. What would it be like without them?
Lockdowns aren’t just needed to ensure that hospitals will be able to handle the outbreak. There’s also the hope that better treatments can be identified and a vaccine can be found (and progress seems fairly encouraging on both fronts).
Paul Christensen seems to be getting carried away:
The current restrictions on economic activity are condemning many thousands of people who had basically comfortable lives to years or decades of poverty. There may be significant increases in suicide, divorce and domestic violence rates as people are cooped up to an unprecedented degree in small living spaces
Decades of poverty? Restrictions apply to a relatively small part of the economy. We are talking about Hong Kong here, aren’t we?
[To summarize what I wrote in my response by Paul's comment, I accept that some people will suffer significant hardship from the lockdown (UK) / restrictions (HK). But the solution to that is not to accept more deaths it's for the government to make payments to people who lose their jobs.]
And Hong Kong apartments are definitely small, but we don’t have a lockdown and the only people who can’t go out are those who are in quarantine. Those social problems are real, but they existed before COVID-19 and they will be there afterwards. The impact of a few thousand people being in quarantine for 14 days is not really significant.
Certainly the restrictions everywhere will be eased in the coming weeks and months and maybe Hong Kong (and Singapore) offer a template for how it can be done:
Despite setbacks, Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s targeted strategies for fighting COVID-19 may yet succeed—and provide a model for other countries emerging from their first wave of cases.