Covid-19: what the world has learned during lockdown | The Economist

published on July 2, 2020


i'm edward carr the economist deputy

editor hello my name is callum williams

i'm senior economics writer at the

economist and i

am joining ed to answer your questions

on this call

about a month ago we did a q a on


and all its implications well a lot's

happened since then

we thought we'd come back and answer

some more questions so here we are


there have been reports of people um

who have apparently tested uh

that they've been cured from disease who

then do seem to get a new infection

but really that's very hard to interpret

um there could be reasons for that

one is that fat community might not last

another is that the test that they had

wasn't accurate a third could be that

they hadn't actually properly got rid of

the disease and it's flared up again

this question of bad immunity is really

important obviously because

um it affects what happens when people

who think they've had the disease

then go out and if they can catch it

again or spread it it might be

might be an important have an important

effect on their behavior

but the really the thing about diseases

is that the immune system shows a very

very wide range of responses

in some diseases like measles you get

immunity for a lifetime

in others like the cold for instance or


you might get immunity for six months a


uh and it's really too soon to say where

on that spectrum

covid19 lies we've only had it for four


so it's just too soon impossible to know

whether this immunity lasts


a lot of people have said well if the

economy does badly then

public health will do badly and there's

a lot there's a lot to that argument um

the way to think about it though is the

is to look at the historical evidence

for this

and what that shows is when there have

been past pandemics the uh

the countries that tended to lock down

or cities that tended to lock down

fastest and earliest

over the medium and long run tended to

have much better economic outcomes in

things like

wages and employment and business growth

and so on so

even if you just look at it from an

economic perspective there's a very

strong argument

in favor of of of lockdowns so the

lockdowns do in themselves have

costs they have costs in mental health

uh there's costs in domestic violence

some people don't get treated for

diseases they might

just might either get treated for so

there are costs it's just that those


in the long run are so much smaller than

the costs of letting the disease

run wild

well this is an important question

because um you can imagine that

the moment a vaccine is demonstrated to

be safe the demand for it will be

huge you know everybody on the planet

will want this vaccine

and there are a number of worries about

that uh

you know there is a there's a

distribution that is optimal

in in terms of the common good and that

is for

health workers for instance to get to

get the

vaccine very early because they need to

be protected when they come to care and

look after people

then you'd probably pick the vulnerable

which for this disease

is the elderly and people who have you

know pre-existing conditions

and you'd work your way through the

population according to

vulnerability and risk but there's a

you know there's a chance that the

country that happens to

either invented the vaccine or to have


facilities that can manufacture it that

or has indeed has the money to buy it

that those countries will start to

corner the market

so there are moves now particularly

among the g20 encouraged by the who

to try and set up systems today before a

vaccine has been

discovered and approved to have you like

to appeal to the better side of

everybody's nature and agree

with through the veil of ignorance as to

what's the best way of of doing this

um but that i think will be challenged


and and sort of you know self-interest

understandably but self-interest will

at least challenge that system


swedish cases is the kind of million

dollar question that no one really knows

the answer to

when you when you talk when you read or

listen to interviews with the various


um who are who are in charge of that uh

program they will say that it's

it remains too early to tell uh you know

how successful otherwise their strategy

has been

um there has already has already come

with a very clear economic cost

uh as particularly as people in older

age brackets have have

held back and haven't gone out and that

kind of thing um in terms of the number

of deaths i mean they're not doing

as badly as you might have thought

certainly when you compare deaths per

person with other countries the

epidemiology i've seen suggests that

sweden's cases are

are going up um reasonably fast um but

but you just have to

to see uh at with time what happens


supposing their second and third waves

the sort of lockdowns

that you've seen for instance the united

states i think will be very hard

to introduce repeatedly you know i think

in some ways if sweden keeps the cases


it's much more sustainable to have a

policy that's more voluntary

people will do it and i think that was

part of the

thinking behind the british approach

originally but you know in britain it

didn't work britain had a lot of cases

it wasn't happening

the swedes claim to be naturally

naturally socially distant

because of the temperament of the swedes

that's what they say about themselves so

you know maybe it's easier there

but these things are these things are

experiments and some people get it right

and some people get it wrong

the epidemiology so far and it's not

complete but so far

suggests one that children aren't in

particular danger they don't catch the


any more readily than adults possibly

less actually

and if they do catch the disease they

don't die from it um so so that means

that you aren't actually putting

children themselves in danger by going

to school but you aren't really putting

their families in danger particularly


these are very sparse studies so far but

uh in iceland and the netherlands um

they suggest that the children

haven't passed on the disease to their

families from school now that

that might be just because schools

actually happen to close very early so

you haven't had

much opportunity to and you know as

countries like denmark and germany now

begin to open schools you might see

evidence of transmission

within them which would have to

obviously change policy it's a very

interesting example of how to think

about this

as you should i i think in in all of

these social existencing measures which


they come at a cost and they come with a

benefit it turns out the benefits of

this perhaps aren't as large as people

thought but the costs are really very

high indeed particularly to the children

themselves who might miss out on many

months of education setting them back by

some research shows up to a year um

and and also to their parents who

obviously can't

work because they have to be at

home-minded kids


in economic terms it looks uh it looks

pretty worrying

um what we see at the moment in the

financial markets is that

rich countries in particular countries

like the uk the us germany

australia japan there's enormous demand

for safe assets

and that safe assets in that context

really means the government debt of

those countries so they're finding it


sort of surprisingly easy to borrow vast

sums in order to

subsidize wages and give grants to

businesses and

all that kind of stuff now this is a

luxury that most um

emerging markets or poor countries uh

have to a much either to a much lesser

extent or or not at all

and so in terms of being able to support

their economy um

it's they have much less room for


and bear in mind also that they have a

much higher incidence of things like

informal work

so people who are not sort of officially

employed and therefore

are not able to access you know some of

the welfare state privileges that people


the rich world would have some poor


some bits of poor countries kerala and

india for instance

and vietnam um have done extremely well

in stopping the spread of the disease so

you know social distancing is not high


it's harder in crowded cities and it's

harder to be to have wash your hands

when you have to cue

one water stand for many buildings but

it is possible to have social distancing

for me the real question i think is sort


what happens next um you know

people do not have savings to fall back


they need to to work um and

uh it may be that a vaccine

or a cure is many many it's likely that

it's many many many months away

so um you know the the the

transmission of the disease in india has

slowed is now about doubling about once

every 10 days

and they've extended the lock down and

the lockdown remains

popular there but it can't last for

months and months and months

the first thing is to get a real

understanding of how

um covid19 or other um

cov2 the virus that causes it how that

went from bats to people

we need to understand that because


it's a fat one of this family of seven

viruses of the pyrion people but three

um kovid 19 sars and mers

have appeared in people in the last 20

years having not really

caused people many problems at all

before then so

something has happened to mean that

these viruses have come back again and


that's the first thing i think is sort

of better understanding of the virology

and that involves china being willing to

open up and let people find out what's

going on and it's putting up a big

resistance to that at the moment then


the second thing we've seen is that the


was either unable to put its message

across or didn't feel it had the power


be exactly as explicit as it was it


about what was happening in china first

of all and then warning people but the

who is a creature of the governments

that created it including the united


and it doesn't have enormous political

power so a second question is to ask

are governments prepared to give the

who or something like it a bit more


and a bit more teeth the third thing is

preparedness um it it's really

interesting how the countries that have

done best with covert 19

are those that had already been through

something like it with sars

i'm thinking of taiwan singapore hong


and those countries learned important

lessons with sars that they then were

able to apply

uh with kofit 19 i think that'll happen

on its own but each country needs to go

through its response

to think about what worked and what

didn't so that they're properly prepared

and one of the questions that they'll

need to answer i think

is to what extent do they need to feel

that they produce their own supplies

of medical equipment and drugs

i think it'll be a big debate to be had

on that we like to think we bring you

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