Walking the health vs economy tightrope

It’s a balancing act.” That’s what you’ll hear from the economists, health experts, scientists, polliticians. On the one hand, we need to preserve the health of the population, not expose people to Covid-19 that could make them very sick or even kill them. On the other hand, we need to go to work. The economies of every country don’t take kindly to everyone in the population downing tools and staying at home. In fact, doing that wrecks the economy of most countries. The predictions at the moment are dire; the longer we keep ourselves under house arrest, the more scorched-earth the economy will be. 

Let’s focus for a minute on the economy. You know, businesses and organisations that employ people, pay them a wage so they can put bread on the table. An awful lot of those won’t survive. Pubs. Farms. Airlines. Add to the list at will. They are now gone. And as I say, the longer we stay in lockdown, the more of these won’t survive, and with them will go the jobs of all those who work for them.

So what to do?

Should we take the advice of Dominic Cummings, who dismissed the dangers of carrying on as usual with “Some old people will die. So what?” Or words to that effect. If, say, we could open our economy, get everyone back to work tomorrow, knowing that it would cost 10,000 lives, would we go for it? What about if it was just 1,000. Or 500? Or 50? When you get down to the really low numbers – this is hypothetical, you understand – many of us would be tempted to say “Yes, go for it – we need to make a living”. But suppose the 50 people involved were named in advance, and one of them was you or a member of your family? I wouldn’t agree to that and neither, I suspect, would you.

The harsh fact is, no government should be prepared to get the wheels of commerce spinning again if they know it’s going to cost lives. Some of them would gladly sacrifice a few hundred or thousand, assuming it wasn’t someone connected to them. But even then it’s a vicious circle: open up when people are still dying and you could easily provoke a second outbreak, or a third. 

So if we ever get out of this nightmare – and sometimes, like you, I feel I’m in some sort of futuristic horror movie – we’re going to have such a shambles of an economy, we’ll all have to get used to a lot less. A lot fewer holidays. A lot less purchase of non-essentials. A lot more attention to the worth of those – nurses, carers, shelf-stackers – who have always been consigned to the bottom of the pile, surviving on pinched wages. 

That is, until. one day, some day, a vaccine can be found and delivered. When that happens – and it will – just watch how quickly the powers that be bust a gut trying to put back in place the old familiar exploitative ways. 

Final thought: has anyone promised there isn’t a Covid-20 or a Covid-21 limbering up, getting ready to come out the starting blocks?

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