The cure is far worse than the disease.
In these times of COVID-19, you’ll forgive me for deviating from climate and energy from time to time.
Lately nothing has been more annoying to me than the misuse of the graphic (see below) that claims to tell us why it’s important to prolong (flatten) the pandemic: in order to keep our (woefully inadequate) healthcare system from becoming overloaded.
This is why it’s important to stay healthy, keep others healthy and wash your hands. The red is what Trump and his team are trying to prevent. God bless pic.twitter.com/uIbBzJx6zm
— Democrats for Trump (@YoungDems4Trump) March 24, 2020
The flatter the pandemic, the longer the shutdowns
This flattening (prolonging) of the pandemic of course now involves instituting lock downs, curfews and devastating widespread business shutdowns. No one wants to hear it, but the consequences risk being catastrophic: mass unemployment, depression, civil and political unrest. This is now a very real possibility in Europe and North America.
Not only are the shutdown measures having a profound impact on our liberties, they soon will be needlessly testing the very outer limits of our society’s ability to cohere. The longer the lock downs and business shutdowns drag on, the greater the already massive economic damage will become. Meltdown becomes a real possibility.
Most economies cannot survive protracted shutdowns
Yes, of course, people have to keep distance and practice commonsense things like hand-washing, disinfection and absorbing their coughs and sneezes. Yes, local hot-spot lock downs may be warranted. But these should never morph into country-wide blanket-curfews that end up smothering everything.
Increase hospital capacity, isolate the vulnerable
The strategy should not be to flatten (extend) the pandemic (B), like may countries have been misled into doing, rather it should be to shorten its duration (C), keep the peak hospitalization number down (blue curve) while increasing health care capacity (blue dashed line).
The two fundamental ways to do this:
- Raise the health care system’s capacity. Ideally that should have been done long ago, like after the earlier warnings that health care systems were not at all up to par. Had governments heeded these warnings, the dotted line denoting healthcare system capacity would have been raised substantially. Now authorities are scrambling madly.
- Reduce the peak number of hospital cases. That could have been, and still can be, done by strictly isolating the elderly and vulnerable from those who aren’t. The many who aren’t elderly and vulnerable would get infected and do just fine. Soon, we’d have the desired herd immunity.
Unfortunately there has been woefully inadequate effort on both of these two approaches. Political correctness to some extent prevented that. The result: the pandemic will continue, more curfews, lock downs and potentially catastrophic closures of large parts of the economy.
Few economies can survive
The way things are now, countries with the most rickety health care systems (low capacity) have no choice but to impose – indefinitely – the most stringent and protracted lock downs if they wish to keep the number of hospital cases manageable (and thus look politically correct). These lock downs of course will only prolong the pandemic, which in turn will mean even longer shutdowns.
Few economies will be able to survive that.
Virologists alone cannot decide policy
This is why policy decisions cannot be left up to virologists alone, but must involve experts from multiple disciplines. This is the only way to achieve an optimum outcome.
Those of us who are fit should go back to work and not worry about getting infected. The rest should be protected in isolation until the whole thing blows over.