E Death, Economics And Coronavirus

In the past, I have argued that the threat to lives from the shutdown is far greater than the threat to lives from the virus. Not lives in the developed world, but the lives of the 3-4 billion people who live hand-to-mouth outside the developed world.

assorted food in sacks

Image Source: Unsplash

The growing threat of our economic catastrophe threatens massive numbers of their lives. For context, 700,000 have been killed by the coronavirus. The World Food Program estimates 120 million additional people will face acute food shortages (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31647-0/fulltext). They have lowered their predictions for child death, nonetheless they are predicting 128,000 deaths among children under 5 in 2020. The children are particularly important (not just because they are cute) but because they would otherwise have decades of life in front of them. Even in Sub-Saharan Africa, life expectancy has hit 60 years (https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/pdf/mortality/WMR2019/WorldMortality2019DataBooklet.pdf). Each child thus represents 55+ years of life lost while the average coronavirus victim has lost 10 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-kills-people-an-average-of-a-decade-before-their-time-11588424401).

These impacts are as great as they are because the developing world depends on the wealthy world for all manner of economic activity from textile manufacturing (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/cons-products/garments-/-textiles/textiles-industryseeks-loan-rejig/articleshow/76899989.cms) to petroleum (https://www.theafricareport.com/33300/pandemic-to-poverty-nigeria-in-the-post-covid-future/) and mineral extraction (https://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/covid-19-employment-mining-en.pdf) to cash remittances from people working in the developed world (https://www.wsj.com/articles/developing-world-migrant-workers-remittances-coronavirus-pandemic-lockdown-reopen-11593969595). Without that work, the economic structure of entire nations can collapse. The impacts will not only kill, they will destabilize.

For these reasons, it is critical we chart a course back to economic health as soon as we possibly can.

Of course, we can’t do that without any consideration for the lives at risk from the virus in our world. The goal has to be to take both the virus and economic impacts into consideration.

This article is an attempt to analyze the current situation and determine – in more depth than I have before – the path forward for different regions. My prior articles have been very broad in their recommendations. I have actually recommended both paths in this article before – but not at the same time. Unlike previous pieces, this article bifurcates its recommendations by region. This bifurcation is due to the more in-depth analysis in this piece.

As I see it, the following factors are in play:

  1. In countries that had severe outbreaks, death rates have fallen dramatically (even in places like Sweden that have never practiced government enforced social distancing). Note that Sweden had a very high death rate in part because – to quote the WSJ - "About 90% of nursing-home residents who succumbed to Covid-19 in Sweden were never admitted to a hospital, according to official estimates."
  2. Case death rates (from known diagnosis) are highly unreliable as they are very dependent on testing rates.
  3. Infection death rates are unknown because serological survey testing has basically stopped. It could tell us how much the virus as spread and how deadly it is now, but we just don’t know.
  4. The BBC was reporting that large numbers of people (perhaps 50-60%) appear to have T-cell based immunity that pre-dates the current outbreak. In other words, blood samples taken several years ago indicated patients were already immune. This would enable community immunity even without 60+% infection rates. 10-20% might be enough to protect communities from further large-scale death.
    1. This might be why NYC had 22,310 deaths through May 2020 (272 deaths/day from the date of the first death. Serological surveys indicated 20% at this point. Since, there have been 1,244 coronavirus deaths in the city, for 19 deaths/day. In the past month, this has fallen to 10 deaths/day – despite massive public protests. In the week ending August 4th, deaths were 3.6/day. The current death rate is roughly 1/15th the death rate from heart disease. Coronavirus has gone from the overwhelmingly cause of death to one of a number of causes.
    2. NYC’s performance could have been due to lockdown, but Sweden (which didn’t lock down had a similar pattern). There were 54 deaths/day until June 1st. Despite a lack of economically crippling mandates, death rates then dropped. From June 1st to today, they have averaged 21 deaths/day. And from July 1st, it has been 12.4 deaths/day. It is possible their slower decline is due to a less intense initial assault (as show in the chart).
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