What comes next in the ongoing coronavirus saga?

By Kevin Roche

Over the last few days, pressure has been mounting, from the public and certain leaders, to change the strategy on economic shutdowns.  It appears that our leaders, unfortunately, as usual, completely under-estimated the depth of the job loss and other damage caused by the shutdown, and have over-estimated the risk from the coronavirus itself.  You would think with all the emphasis on modeling the epidemic, that some modeling on what the job loss might be would have been done as well.  Being cooped up in doors also can only go on for so long before the bulk of the population, who are at extremely low risk, gets really fed up.  It is also apparent, on careful analysis, that most of the benefit in terms of deferring infections, serious disease and deaths, could be obtained with more targeted mitigation of spread measures.  So I think that pressure will continue to grow to change course, but I am also concerned that many people don’t yet have a realistic understanding of the likely trajectory of the epidemic.

I believe the evidence supports the notion that this virus is likely to become a routine part of the panoply of infectious agents that we all encounter on a regular basis.  I don’t see evidence that the virus will actually be eradicated.  So unless we are willing to indefinitely sustain extreme shutdowns that greatly limit contacts and transmissibility, there is going to be some level of infections and disease.  A lot of people seem to think that the current shutdowns are the solution; that when we come out of them we are done with the virus and we can get going with economic recovery.  I don’t believe that is a realistic scenario.  Although I think a targeted approach will be very beneficial in reducing serious illness and deaths, it can’t complete eliminate them any more than the extreme shutdowns have.   Fortunately, the vast majority of serious illnesses and deaths are occurring in elderly and other vulnerable groups, so the working age population can very safely return to work and normal life, still observing basic hygiene and mitigation measures, with little fear.  The vulnerable populations should continue to be isolated and protected.

It is important that people have this realistic appraisal because we have to have the collective will to stick to the strategy.  If infections and deaths continue, even at a lower level, we can’t abandon the more targeted approach.  What should be very apparent to everyone now is that we cannot sustain this level of economic decline for any length of time.  People are being unrealistic about how quickly the economy will bounce back and about government’s ability to make such a quick bounce back happen.

Every day counts; the faster we get people back to work the less the lasting damage will be and the sooner we will return to a level of economic activity that supports a good quality of life.

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