If you’re reading this, you’re very likely in a lockdown. Like most people around the world. Most countries have implemented some form of quarantine and lockdown measures, which means people can’t really go out of their houses. I’ve seen first hand the empty streets, and closed shops, and the practice of social distancing in grocery stores and pharmacies. While the Coronavirus lockdown has proved useful, and it seems to be working, there are causes for concern. A recent conversation with a pregnant friend in Scotland who was being denied the usual pre-birth checks made me consider the potential drawbacks of such a measure. Since then I’ve been through quite a few research journals and articles to understand the pros and cons of the lockdown.
From everything I’ve learned, here’s what’s become clear to me: prolonging the Coronavirus lockdown is a bad idea.
Three main reasons:
1. The Economic costs
2. The Health costs
3. The Social costs
The lockdown has already seen many small businesses go out of business. It’s not that they’ve hit pause and will come back after the Coronavirus situation normalises. No, they are gone forever, because they just could not exist without the lack of business. Then there’s the number of people who’ve been unemployed. When businesses cease to exist, their employees cease to have jobs – it’s simple math.
You might argue that governments are providing financial help, like the trillion-dollar stimulus package bill that the USA just sanctioned, the multi-billion pounds fiscal stimulus that the UK government has offered, or the similar stimulus packages that other countries around the world are offering to their citizens and business. Yes, that’s great, and will certainly help. However, how long can the governments continue with these stimuli? I was reading recently that businesses in the Philippines, for example, have already asked for another 281 billion pesos ($5.52 billion) fiscal stimulus – this is even after a fiscal stimulus was already provided. The same will very likely be the case in other countries as well if it isn’t already that is. The longer the lockdown continues, the more funding and help businesses will need to stay afloat.
Here’s another factor to consider. According to the research from Imperial College London, it’ll take about 18 months of the current level of quarantine and social distancing for this approach to be truly effective. No government in the world has the sort of funds necessary to feed all their citizens for 18 months, while putting the whole economy of lockdown. It’s not just impractical, it’s unfeasible. No business means no salary, which means no tax revenue, which means the governments have no income. Most governments around the world are in debt already, how long do you think they can realistically keep funding the economy?
If history is a predictor, which it often is, the large scale unemployment will cause a massive amount of health problems, both physical and psychological. This is what happened during the last recession, which cut short collective life expectancy, caused a huge spike in mental health issues like depression and stress, and also significantly increased the rate of suicide. According to research I read, there were 10,000 more suicides than normal in just Europe and the USA alone during that recession. And this time around, economists are predicting an even bigger recession. A recession that will only get worse the longer economies are in a state of lockdown.
Then there’s the impact on recent graduates – the young people who’ll find themselves looking for a job during a frozen economy. The mental and physical health toll on them will be significant.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that governments around the world, or at least in the countries where the threat of Coronavirus is biggest, can continue to fund people and businesses for 18 months. That may help with the economic costs, and to an extent, the health costs, but still leaves a lot of the health costs unmet, namely those related to mental health issues. And then there are the social costs. Humans are social beings. Isolate them for a long time, and there will be problems. The social structures and institutions we are used to and depend on will be damaged the longer the lockdown is prolonged. There’s already a rise in social mistrust, especially as people are worried about who might be a carrier of the virus. The tensions that prolonging the period of social isolation can have a significant negative impact on our social ties, and the way we operate as a society. The longer the lockdown continues, the worse the social costs will be.
Good idea in the long term?
In light of those massive implications, the benefits of prolonging the Coronavirus lockdown doesn’t really seem justified. Yes, the lockdown can and will save lives. But the question we should be asking isn’t just will it save lives, but rather, will it save more lives than it will take in the long term? The matter at hand isn’t quite black and white – it’s not as simple as establishing whether the lockdown measures will save lives. We need to weigh up the long term implications of the lockdown measures to really understand the true cost of prolonging the lockdown.
So, is the long term cost, and the drawbacks, really worth the short term benefits?
I don’t believe so.
Based on all the research and evidence I’ve read, the long term costs outweigh the short term benefits.
The longer the Coronavirus lockdown continues, the worse things will get. There’s no point in crying over spilled milk, and what’s done is done, but it really is about time that governments weigh up the true implications of continuing with the lockdown, and come up with better solutions. I’m sure better solutions are possible. Smart people around the world are already working on alternative options, it can be worth looking into them.
Saving lives is absolutely important, but not if it means adopting practices that end up being the catalyst of losing a lot more lives in the long term. That’s, unfortunately, where the current lockdown is doing.
If you believe I’m wrong, let me know why. What have I missed, what am I not taking into account? I am always willing to be corrected.
Wherever in the world you are reading this from, I sincerely hope you, and your family, are safe, and in good health and spirit. One of the key things you can do during challenging times like these is to stay positive, if not for your own sake, then at least for the sake of those around you. Remember, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Things WILL get better – it’s not a matter of if, but rather, when. Until then, all we can do is stay calm, and do our best.
Also published on Medium.