The Illusion of Unanimity
The question of choosing the right policy response to any given problem has become increasingly polarised in the recent years. Especially when it comes to larger issues like climate change or coronavirus, we are presented with a binary choice of the scientific, sensible, compassionate option or the heartless, uninformed, bad option.
Turning on the news, one might think that there is a single answer to every issue and there is always a “correct” side to stand on. However, policy is never binary and we are merely seeing an illusion of unanimity.
WHO is it Good For?
Recently, even the World Health Organisation admitted that lockdowns may be too damaging to be used as a tool against the virus. Nonetheless, we are seeing their resurgence all around the world and any criticism is met with angry cries from both the political elite and the media.
Moreover, the WHO informed us that around 10% of the world population have already been infected with coronavirus. 780 000 000 people. Scary number. However, when counting with the worldwide deaths associated with coronavirus that gives us a death rate of about 0,15%, which is slightly above the influenza and 22 times lower than the provisional figures from the beginning of this year. This of course doesn’t take into account the high likelihood of overestimation and counting deaths “with” not “of” Covid-19.
Don’t Forget the Trade-offs
When it comes to Covid policy, there are many pros and cons to be weighed before implementing any radical measures. For example, as evidence shows, coronavirus does not affect all age groups the same. Even people within the same age group are affected differently based on their pre-existing conditions. This means that the appropriate response should also be tailored to the individual risk factors involved. A proposal like this, the Focused Protection, is expressed in The Great Barrington Declaration.
Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.– The Great Barrington Declaration
Focused Protection can be summarized by saying that the cure can never be worse than the disease. When it comes to the elderly and those with a compromised immune system, hard lockdowns and protective measures make sense. When it comes to young, healthy people, they cause more harm than good.
Nevertheless, implementing hard lockdowns is a politically attractive measure, championed by the progenitors of the binary world view. You won’t get blamed of being careless by the media. You won’t have to bring any other sensible reforms. And most importantly, any future social and economic fallout they will cause, can easily be excused by their very necessity. What evidence shows us though, is that these lockdowns do not make much sense beyond avoiding political liability.
Measures more in line with Focused Protection assume calculating the potential trade-offs and doing what is needed, not what is popular. The economy or mental health may not seem so important compared to the raw number of deaths but they should definitely not be forgotten. Crisis response should not fall under binary politics. Every policy has its downsides and by the time coronavirus stops being the centre of all attention, it will be too late to start assessing the damage.
Featured image credit: DDP on Unsplash