Dealing with COVID-19: Governments have it all wrong

Faced with a Pandemic should governments focus resources on treatment or prevention?

By definition a Pandemic means the disease will spread through the general population. Current estimates of infection rates of 30-50% of the population have been cited by various country leaders. It cannot be stopped.

The response to COVID 19 by governments around the world has focused on slowing the inevitable spread of the virus – not preventing, not treating, just slowing. The tactics (strategy is too generous) deployed to date – closing borders, restaurants, bars, public events and the like – are certain to cause enormous disruption to the economic welfare of citizens and businesses, yet they have been effected with no assurance that they will have any effect on any aspect of the spread of the disease other than the timing of cases.

Why do global leaders perceive this is a race against time? The answer is obvious, yet might be surprising to you. Politicians rely on experts to tell them what to do. In a health crisis they turn to health experts, which, on the surface seems very sensible.

These health experts run the health care systems, which they know lots about, and they foresee that those systems will be overrun by expected caseloads. So their recommendations focus on “flattening the curve” of disease spread i.e. spreading it over more time so the current health care system resources (plus emergency plan “surge resources” some health systems have in place) will not be overwhelmed.

In other words their recommendations are designed to protect the reputation of the health care systems they run from failing to provide needed care by slowing down the inbound caseload. Kind of like turning away the hungry from food banks so they don’t run out of food. Really, that is the strategy, today.

In a way we should not blame the health experts for seeing things this way. They do not have expert knowledge of economics or the alternate capabilities that an effective government might be able to bring to bear on the real problem: increasing treatment capacity.

By blindly accepting recommendations of public health experts without thinking through the assumptions those experts are operating under, and the enormous capabilities within reach of governments to change the underlying assumptions, they have compounded the problem by creating the conditions for a global recession (and possible depression).

Shutting down commercial and consumer activity is extremely toxic from an economics perspective. Remember how much money every new sports stadium, Olympics hosting etc. etc. were supposed to contribute to economic growth in your town? Closing down arenas, restaurants, bars, schools…. try using the same numbers and look at the cost. It is sobering to realize these shut downs are likely to kill off hundreds of thousands of jobs and private businesses that do not have the leverage to get handouts from the government to save them. Yes, only the bailout winners will get them. Yet again centralizing power in the hands of government and mega corporations at the expense of private citizens and small businesses.

And those bailouts are starting – a trillion dollars here, a hundred billion there in the United States … in the last 7 days alone.

I have to wonder how many ventilators you could buy for a trillion dollars? They cost about 5k USD each for a nice one from Phillips so in fact you could get 200 MILLION ventilators for a Trillion dollars… enough for 2 of every 3 people in the USA. The need is waaaay smaller than that… less than 5% of infected people actually develop serious symptoms. So that’s like 16.5 million machines if everyone was sick at the exact same time. Cost = 82.5 Billion. Peanuts! Surely the USA can manufacture a dozen million of these things pretty quick to save the country. It isn’t rocket science to build one. Maybe hire some of those restaurant workers you just laid off.

But where would you put the sick people? Seems to me they’ve closed down travel pretty much entirely, so take over as many hotel beds a you need. Bonus – they already have food production capabilities, private rooms etc. etc. a pretty good fit. Keeps all the staff working (plus more) and then you don’t have to bail them out!

But what about the staffing / training costs? When the government pays remember that they get more than 35 cents on the dollar back in taxes, so the cost is more like 65% of what it looks like on paper. And the people needed do not have to be uber-brilliant, they just need to look after people and keep the ventilator plugged in (there is no other treatment). If it were my call, I’d put money into training the public to look after each other, in free hotel rooms, with free ventilators.

Sadly I don’t expect any of these ideas to see the light of day. Its much safer for Politicians to say “I had no choice” and impose martial law on their citizens, bankrupting masses of small independent workers and business in favour of saving the glamorous few big corporations and all the while not even addressing the real problem, which is treating sick people.

Covid19 is indeed a global emergency. And the response of governments across the globe will amplify the problem by destroying the global economy at the same time people are getting sick.

It takes a thinking person to realize the global “strategy” is worse than the disease, and that tackling the health problem with treatment instead of avoidance would actually be cheaper and better for everyone. I guess that’s too much to ask of our elected officials.

Stay well, folks.