Ezekiel Emanuel (brother of Rahm Emanuel) — whose ‘peculiar’ views on medical ethics would require a separate blog to fisk them — now calls for a 12-to-18-month lockdown. Bill Gates, not a doctor but somebody I’d expect to at least understand supply chains, argues for a 6-month lockdown until a fast-tracked vaccine would be available.
Only somebody who is completely divorced from any economic and social reality outside medicine would present such extended lockdowns as anything other than “in an ideal world, we’d wish we’d be able to do this. In the real world, this would kill the patient while curing the disease”. Sarah Hoyt has been expressing her fear of the latter repeatedly and stridently on her blog.
Even now, the economic fallout from lockdowns is immense, although perhaps less felt in some countries than in others. France, for instance, routinely goes on a nearly month-long collective vacation in August, and Israel nearly shuts down twice a year around Passover and around the High Holidays. But these are scheduled, cyclical events that these economies have been working around for decades.
There are already the first signs of food supply chain disturbances in the US. (With “just in time delivery” chains, that happens faster perhaps.) In this small country here (Israel), agriculture is more or less business as usual, though the shutdown of cafés and restaurants has meant that some farmers primarily selling to that sector now are having to dump vegetables and dairy products at a loss. Some have gotten creative and have branched out into home delivery.
Instapundit says, “we can keep this up for another two weeks at most, and then we have to start reopening things”. Considering hopeful signs that the epidemic has reached plateau phase in its US epicenters, this may actually be realistic. Austria, where active cases are past the hump, has committed to a phased reopening of the economy. Belgium, where the infection is peaking, is looking at doing the same, as is Denmark. Israel’s initial contingency planning was for reopening in stages after the week-long Passover holiday; it’s not clear whether that is still in the cards, but planning is going on, and the planners openly discuss the trade-offs involved. As one put it: “we might have world-class epidemiological statistics” (Israel’s IFR is well below 1%) “but wreak irreparable damage to our economy that may cause more mortality in the elderly than the virus”.
Some advocates of sustained strident measures quote Tomas Pueyo’s “The Hammer And The Dance” essay without context. Actually, Pueyo argues precisely for an alternative to extended lockdowns. What he called for were:
1) In the “Hammer” phase, carry out as stringent a lockdown as possible, as early as possible, such that the period required for breaking the back of the epidemic is as short as possible (ideally, get effective reproductive number down into the 0.35 range).
2) In the “Dance” phase, reopen things with social distancing & hygiene restrictions in order to keep the effective reproductive number R from exceeding 1.0. Ideally, with abundant statistical data (which he admits may not be available) one would be able to establish a kind of “menu” of R-reduction options, and be able to assemble a combo of the options that give the most benefit for the least economic cost.
What does the latter mean in practice? Just by way of illustration: frequent hand-washing and wearing masks may be nuisances, but do not significantly interfere with economic activity. (Again, the primary benefit of wearing masks is to your fellow person, not to yourself. It will stop you from projecting aerosols of the virus unto others if you are in the asymptomatic phase.) Respecting the personal space of others may seem annoying to Spaniards or Italians (or Israelis, for that matter), but is a way of life to many people elsewhere. I was astonished when last year I visited various stores in Norway where people routinely stayed a meter apart from each other in line, without pushing or becoming impatient. Likewise, many Americans who haven’t been conditioned to dense urban areas like NYC respect personal distance better than most others.
And some aspects of the world economy may change forever, and not necessarily for the worse. Some jobs that can be done just fine by video link or other electronic communications may never return to one-on-one. And conversely, many countries and large corporations will be reconsidering the wisdom of being overly dependent on a single supplier for anything crucial. The diversification process had already started, but will go much further. The PRC is sure to feel the economic repercussions of this — at a level that may jeopardize the survival of its totalitarian regime.
DE STANDAARD (in Dutch) looks at six possible strategies for “back to normal” in Belgium, which I will briefly summarize
1. Test and trace. Main downside, aside from required testing capacity, is privacy invasion through phone app. (South Koreans don’t GAF)
2. Gradually opening schools and businesses, while continuing distance learning and telecommuting in such sectors where this is feasible. Mass events (concerts etc.) remain off the menu
3. Immunity testing and immunity passes — those who have them can go back to work. Main downsides: antibody tests not yet reliable enough; not proven that one cannot get reinfected after getting cured; probably fewer people have immunity than many advocates think.
4. Masks for everyone. Main downsides: not enough masks for everybody; false sense of security; people not used to using them start futzing with them and touching their faces, which (if hands contaminated) makes it worse
5. Variolation [they call it instead “Hotel Corona”] of younger people to build up “herd immunity”. Main downside: not clear if this is really as safe for young people as generally thought. Erika Vlieghe, head of the Infectious Diseases Dept. at U. Of Antwerp, mentions genetic predisposition to overreacting immune system (“cytokine storm”) in some people.
6. Miscellaneous “out of the box” approaches, such as staggered lockdowns (alternating odd and even ID numbers, alternating male and female, alternating odd and even DOBs) to ensure fewer people in public spaces at any one time; release one region/province at a time while keeping the remainder on lockdown, keeping excess hospital capacity available in the other regions in case of a flare-up in the opened region;…
Meanwhile, the observation that China is trying to rewrite the history of the virus is not just the province of “les déplorables” in the US: the center-right German daily Die Welt — as “establishment” as you can get — has an article arguing exactly that https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/plus207092013/Ende-des-Lockdowns-in-Wuhan-China-will-die-Geschichte-des-Virus-umschreiben.html (Alas, they have plenty of Полезные идиоты in the mediatainment complex.)
To my fellow Jews, have a wonderful Passover, with or without electronic means of distance participation in the Seder.
And to all, my best wishes for health, well-being, safety, and may we soon see the light at the end of the tunnel.