We’ve shut down the whole economy for this….?

We’ve shut down the whole economy for this….? Here is an announcement typical of states and countries that have been crushing the curve for the past few weeks:

There were only three new cases of COVID-19 in WA overnight, bringing the state total to 517 … the lowest numbers seen since the testing regime started.

“Three new infections is very encouraging, very encouraging for all of the measures we have taken over the last month … and it shows some of the things we have been doing have had an impact,” the Premier said.

Some are still wondering if shutting down the economy was worth it? After all, the numbers of deaths and infections are tiny compared to the whole population.

But as we pointed out in February — when we were calling for Australia’s borders to be shut, which would have avoided shutting down the economy (as pointed out at the time) — the death toll from letting the virus run is unacceptably high. At a death rate of even 0.5% (and it is 5% or more in many countries, though these statistics are all unreliable), and an infection rate of 80%, the number of dead Australians would be around 100,000. That’s a lot of souls.

Then there are the risks. Much is odd or unknown about this disease (perhaps related to its origin, which probably involves a biowarfare lab). We don’t even know if having it gives us immunity, or how much. There are serious doubts, and several contraindications, such as people who appear to have caught it twice. What if it ran wild and immunity wore off after mere months? Want to bet your life and everyone else’s life on eventually building up effective immunity? I don’t. Let’s buy time by not catching it in the first place.

(Why are the Chinese so keen to have us catch it? They initially told us that there was no human-to-human transmission. Then they said that it was just the flu and herd immunity would be sufficient, even while they were welding people into their apartments. Then — most suspiciously — they allowed people from Hubei to go all over the world but simultaneously blocked them from traveling to the rest of China. Then they locked down Hubei while buying all the PPE they could from other countries and sending it China, while the while telling us it was racist to close our borders. All odd and/or nasty.)

A major factor that the herd immunity crowd overlook is that letting the virus run would shut down the economy anyway, even without government mandate. Who wants to expose themselves to a 1%+ chance of dying, and a substantial chance of doing a Boris Johnson? Most people would self isolate, voluntarily. As it happens, we did. And so did many others, before the government rules came in. School attendance was dropping fast before the lockdown measures were put in place. Even now the schools in Australia are technically open, but attendance is sparse. No government ruling required.

The risk from the flu is well understood, and we each take measures as we see fit. Some get flu shots (we don’t, but might some time). We are at full liberty here. Centuries ago, when libertarians were faced with the black death, they spontaneously locked people out of towns and enforced quarantines. COVID is obviously in between, more dangerous than flu but not as lethal as the black death. But most people, on being informed of the risks, took measures anyway. No government required.

The economy was always going to suffer grievously, regardless of what the government did or did not do. Which pretty much answers the question at the top.

As for herd immunity, despite wishful thinking and conformation bias in some quarters, it is not on the horizon anywhere. Some misunderstood reports led some to jump to the hoped-for conclusion there might be widespread undetected cases, but each report has proved to be misinterpreted, mischievous, or a very special case. No country has more than 1% infection yet, even on pretty generous assumptions.

No country is currently on the herd immunity path. They all got off it. Every single country around the word is locking down, as the death toll mounts. In every case, brave words counted for little as the reality hit home. Some were just faster to catch on.

So the world is locking down and awaiting for regions to be cleared to get back to semi-normality, while we await a biotech solution. (Which may well not be a vaccine, but some anti-viral or other drug.)

hat-tip Stephen Neil