Lockdowns work. That’s the evidence from many different countries now, including Australia. To be more precise, lockdowns reduce the effective reproductive rate of the virus to the point where it is below 1, meaning that, on average, each infected person passes the disease on to less than one other person. As long as this is sustained, the number of new cases will keep declining, as we have now seen. Potentially, as has been claimed to be the case in China, it will reach zero.

Although some people are still talking about “flattening the curve”, it now seems clear that the best strategy is (near) eradication, pushing the number of infections down to (or near) zero, and preventing any resurgence. But what comes next?

The ideal case would come if we could confirm the virus had been wiped out completely in Australia (or in a particular state). Then, provided all new arrivals were subject to strict quarantine, we could drop all the restrictions except those that made sense for other reasons (encouraging/requiring hand washing is an obvious example[1]).

But that’s unlikely to happen soon. In the absence of comprehensive testing, even if measures of new cases fall to zero, it’s hard to be sure that there aren’t any undetected cases. And it will be some time before new cases reach zero.

So, we need to consider which restrictions we should lift, subject to the constraint that R is still below one, meaning that any undetected outbreaks will ultimately fizzle out. This is a question which will need collaboration between epidemiologists, economists, and other social scientists.

(As an aside, although there has been some conflict between economists and epidemologists it isn’t, as has been suggested, that economists have resisted lockdown measures that might damage “the economy”. On the contrary, with few exceptions economists were pushing for a more rapid lockdown, based on considerations of option value (see below). Rather, the issue has mostly been a sadly familiar one of disciplinary turf wars.)

The problem is essentially one of benefit cost analysis: which measures can be relaxed at least cost in terms of increased R relative to the benefits that relaxation will generate. The epidemiologists have the expertise to answer the first question (as well as can be done in the light of very limited evidence), economists and social scientists the second.

The other key issue, which I’ve mentioned before, is that of option value. If a decision is easily reversed, at relatively low cost, it has an option value relative to a decision that is effectively irreversible. That’s why it made sense to lock down early, rather than waiting to see if the virus spread.

Without treading too much on the epidemiologists turf, it seems pretty clear that the worst risks of spreading the disease come when large numbers of unrelated people are together in close proximity for a long time (cruise ships being the worst case, but sporting matches and cinemas fit the bill to a lesser degree).

Now playing sociologist, I’ll assert that some of the most burdensome restrictions are those that prevent gatherings involving modest numbers of family and close friends. Given the big benefits from relaxing these restrictions and the low cost (in terms of R) in terms of doing so, these seem like obvious candidates for consideration.

Turning to economic activity, the costs of restricting an activity involving personal contact depend critically on the availability of remote-delivery substitutes. Most obviously, office work of all kinds can be done remotely. Costs associated with lower efficiency and more goofing off are offset by the reduction in commuting costs. It’s entirely possible that the benefit to workers who place a high weight on commuting costs outweighs the cost to bosses who find supervision more difficult (and colleagues who enjoy social contact at work). Conversely, as has been pointed out with a good deal of derision, there is no way of doing a haircut from 1.5 metres away. That wasn’t a good reason for excluding them from the lockdown (haircuts can easily be deferred after all) but it makes them a good candidate for subsequent relaxation.

School closures provide an example where option values are relevant. If we reopen the schools it will be costly to close them again (a slightly garbled version of this reasoning explains the government’s reluctance to close them in the first place). So, before reopening schools, we need to make sure that all the necessary facilities for handwashing and other health measures are in place, and that there is enough testing to detect infections before they spread.

How soon will this be relevant? I don’t know, but the one thing I’ve learned in this pandemic is that everything happens much faster than you think it will, even after you’ve tried to adjust for the fact that everything happens much faster than you think it will.

A final point on which I hope to expand more. Apart from lockdowns, the one thing that has been shown to work well is testing, lots and lots of testing. Communication on this point has been terrible, but it appears that we are still subject to constraints on the availability of tests and of labs to process them. Relaxing those constraints and extending testing to include everyone with Covid-like symptoms and sampling of people with no apparent symptoms or contacts, needs to be done ASAP.

70 thoughts on “Unlocking

  1. This analysis is focused in terms of averages across the population and getting below “1” on average. But what happens if there are sub-groups of people who don’t engage in social distancing? Could they function as continuing reservoirs for the virus which could then spread beyond these sub-groups into the wider community when general restrictions on social interaction are lifted.

    These sub-groups might negate the policies and analysis that is based on achieving average infection rates across the community.

    One group I am thinking of is meth amphetamine drug dealers and users. There is a tight network of drug dealers and users in the public housing complex in which I live who are not making any effort to social distance and who are interacting with a wide range of people as they continue their trade.

    This group could act as a continuing reservoir of infections which could then disperse through the community. Is there something in the general dynamics of infection control that would negate this possibility or is this a real problem for analyses and policies based on averages?

  2. It took China 50 days to get from peak active cases down to 2% of that peak. Australia is presumably 6 days past its active peak of 5,000. If we have the same decline as in China we will be at 2% of the active cases peak in 44 days. This will represent around 100 active cases in Australia. Hopefully by then we will have all these people and anyone who has contact with a significant chance of spreading the virus hospitalized or isolated at that point. But it would of course be foolish to assume that’s the case.

    Over the next few weeks we should refine our precautions. That is, we should do more of what works well and less of what doesn’t work so well. After this period we can then gradually ease up as we become more confident there is no more undetected COVID-19 being spread through the community. If things look good, in two months we can remove most restrictions while keeping the most cost effective in place while being ready to reintroduce strict measures if necessary. But presumably if new infections appear in the wild we will be able to trace and isolate the infected and those they have had contact with. Opening restaurants with widely spaced tables, hot food, and reservations reduces the chance of the disease spreading while enabling people to be easily traced. Normal sports matches and cinema use is out.

    If we can go long enough without new cases appearing then we can go back to almost normal. This might take four months or more. But we should be able to do better than China as we have so many advantages when it comes to disease control.

  3. Analysis by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine puts R at 0.7 for Australia as of the end of March, the lowest R of any country studied, along with Austria:


    This implies that once transmission of the virus has been reduced to very low levels, there is considerable scope for easing restrictions whilst maintaining R < 1, even before expanded testing and contact tracing are considered as substitutes for social distancing measures.

    An interesting aspect of the analysis is that it allows you to compare the reproduction numbers for different countries before public health measures were introduced. People have claimed that Australia’s relatively good performance reflects factors such as warm temperatures, low-density cities and low public transport use.

    These arguments don’t make sense at face value—for example, southern states in the US which have warm early spring temperatures and sprawling, car-dependent cities have per capita case and death rates far higher than anywhere in Australia.

    And indeed the analysis shows that values for R at the beginning of the pandemic show very little variation between countries. In Australia, R was a little above two, the same as in the UK and Italy. In Spain it was slightly higher. In the US, it was around 2.5 when analysed at the national level, but generally lower when estimated at the state level.

    All of these countries featured the same pattern of early growth as witnessed in Australia, with cases doubling every four to five days. What accounts for the variation in the magnitude of the epidemics witnessed in different countries is how large the outbreak was allowed to get before public health interventions were introduced, along with how speedily these interventions pushed R towards (and in Italy and Australia’s case below) one.

  4. The epiforecasts site is interesting. It seems that their model doesn’t take account of imported cases – which I think means that it is an overestimate of the Australian R. That is, a large fraction of our cases are still from people arriving from outside Australia – so they are not being ‘reproduced’ here.

  5. Absolutely, and by making the an enemy out of the WHO (test test test) it’s going to hurt the US.

    Without a vaccine mass quarantine/isolation is the only way.

    With a vaccine targeted quarantine/isolation will still be needed.

    Getting the disease is not a viable prescription against infection.

    It’s much the same as TB, I know TB is a bacteria and COVID is a virus, but the same issues prevail.

  6. Credit where credit is due among the economists on this blog. John Quiggin and Harry Clarke both called for early and stringent lock-downs. I think Luke Elford did the same. I don’t recall what Ernestine Gross said on this issue but I think she must have done so too given the general tenor of her comments.

    The NRL’s attempts to lobby for or signal a restart of their football season have had a busket of cold water poured over them by the authorities and rightly so.

    I would not rush to lift family restrictions just yet. Does J.Q. have any proof of the contention about “the low cost in terms of R” of doing so”? Certainly any nuclear family group carrying for an elderly relative at their own residence or else going to the elderly person’s home to deliver food and care several times a week, cannot in all conscience take such risks in the foreseeable future.

  7. Due to China influence on WHO there is little info coming through in MSM on Taiwan.

    Taiwan doesn’t have a lockdown. People are going out to bars, cafes, restaurants, cinemas etc. Some things like hostess bars are closed, massed gatherings are off. People are going to work and visiting each other.

    Taiwan was possible the most vulnerable country in the world to COVID 19 – less than 100 ks from China, thousands of direct Chinese visitors each day, high population density (size of Tasmania yet popn of Australia).

    Taiwan:: Coronavirus Cases: 385 Deaths: 6 Recovered: 99
    Australia:: Coronavirus Cases: 6,238 Deaths: 54 Recovered: 3,141
    Belgium:: Coronavirus Cases: 26,667 Deaths: 3,019 Recovered: 5,568

    Taiwan imposed measures fast and was prepared, largely due to earlier SARS. They had stockpiles of face-masks, people have always worn facemasks in public in Taiwan if they have the slightest sniffle and others wear them all the time in winter. In early March, Taiwan’s average production of surgical face masks reached 9.2 million per day. Taiwan tracks infected people by mobile phone records/movements and contacts anyone they have been in contact with.

    All people have temperature (auto thermal cameras) taken on entry and exit at airports, train stations etc. Shopping centres (bigger than our biggest) and individual shops take temperature of customers prior to allowing entry, customer name, time and temp is recorded.

    Cinemas operate with distancing seating inside.

    Taiwan, since SARS, had successfully integrated a lot of their population and health data and has extensive electronic communication. Taiwan is unafraid to loosen and tighten as necessary any restrictions on travel and gatherings.

    Taiwan is a vigorous democracy with a free and professional media

    Taiwan isn’t Australia and many cultural norms here offer some impedimenta to simply copying everything they do – on the other hand we have advantages – space – suburbs with large houses, and back yards here which they don’t. Taiwan shows that a modern and democratic country can control C 19 with targeted restrictions and also with considerable loosening of lockdowns.

  8. Is it plausible that sub-groups such as the meth using group to which you refer might eventually virtually all become infected and then the virus will run its course within that sub-group? I am assuming that this group has reasonably narrow social contacts apart from scoring and perhaps co-using the drugs.

  9. @brucebradbury:

    On the methods page, they say: “Where data was available, we also used EpiEstim to adjust for imported cases”.

  10. @brisebadbury

    The source is academic, you isolate for a defined period and infection should runs its course.

    New arrivals -> quarantine then test
    New infections -> isolation and test
    New infections -> identify contacts, isolate then test

  11. Lockdowns can reduce the incidence of the virus to low levels. This is a measurable and definite outcome and seems attractive. Maybe the virus can be wiped-out or maybe not. Who knows? One advantage of getting the incidence of the virus down to low levels, even if wiping it out is impossible, is that it gives us time to think and to work out better steady-state responses. We can think about how to reorganize work and social practices so as to better “live with” the virus. Of course, another advantage is that a medical discovery might arrive which ameliorates the virus or even inoculates against it.

    We are as yet uncertain of reinfection possibilities and of long-term damages from the virus to the lungs, the heart and the vascular system – some of the recent news is scary. Knowledge of the virus is changing by the day and simple hypotheses, such as the case for pursuing “herd immunity”, should not be implemented until we have a better knowledge of consequences and alternatives. My impression is that this information is arriving quickly. What a tragedy it would be to seek a disastrous herd immunity option if we promptly found we could readily control the virus.

    Running a guerilla war against a constantly reemerging virus to seek its eradication might be a messy looking policy and might fail but it might be the best course of action at least for a while. It advances myopic clinical objectives and gives social planners some much-needed breathing space to think about managing the virus and the economy.

  12. Your suggestion John, that the restrictions on modest gatherings of families and friends be relaxed is already occurring in SA, because they never put into law the rule of two.
    In SA
    ‘Up to 10 people are allowed to gather in South Australia, but SA Health strongly advises to minimise that to two, plus your immediate family.
    If you are inside, you must have only one person per four square metres.’
    There is no evidence that this approach is causing problems with the spread of the virus, so we should adopt it straight away for everyone, (but also relaxing the strong advice that it be minimised to two).

  13. From what I can gather listening to various virologists, epidemiologists, intensive care medicos and nursing staff, an important item in managing this epidemic are face masks. In the absence of a vaccine, my information is that such masks are required if ‘lockdown’ restrictions are to be relaxed.

    There are two basic types of masks. Those which prevent the virus to infect the wearer and prevent an infected wearer to infect others. These masks are required by health professionals and age carers. These masks are expensive.

    The cheaper masks prevent the virus from spreading to others but do not prevent the wearer from being infected. These masks are effective only if everybody wears them and knows how to fit them properly.

    Austria has set out a time schedule for successively removing restrictions while imposing at the same time the wearing of the cheaper masks by everybody outside their home.

    The first problem. At present there is an acute shortage of both types of face masks in the USA, in Europe, in Australia, and, I assume in Africa and South America – ‘everywhere’.

    If Australia were to adopt a time schedule along the line of Austria (which includes the suggestions by JQ), then one may have to consider the amount of the cheaper variety of face masks that are required. For a variety of reasons, one would need to first estimate the demand per day to get a quantitative feel for how many people would need several per day and how many would need one only once or twice per week.

    I believe it is fair to say that it is common knowledge now in Germany that their Minister of Health has not as yet recommended to wear these face masks because there is an extreme shortage; he foreshadowed his recommendation is likely to change in the future.

    Germany has similar ‘lockdown’ measures to Australia; its death rate is relatively low even though the infection rate is high. Similarly to Australia, testing has been done and is done more than in other European Countries and the USA. In contrast to NY and some other places in the USA and in some European Countries, there is no shortage of isolation and ICU units in hospitals and there is no shortage of ventilators nor laboratories; some patients from Italy and France are in German hospitals – but it is a drop in the ocean. According to newspaper reports, some ventilators were also sent to the UK to assist until the UK up-scales its own production. The Federal Government of Germany has also signed a long term contract with the local ventilator producer in anticipation of more demand world-wide. None of this solves the problem of the cheapest item, simple face masks. Those of a particular age may recall Melitta coffee filters. The Melitta company with headquater somewhere to the middle of Germany is now manufacturing face masks in the shape of Melitta filters (they also are said to produce the more protective masks that involve non-weaved material). According to unconfirmed media reports, Melitta is also producing these coffee filter shaped face masks in subsidiaries in various continents.

    I recall a media report according to which the Australian Minister for Finance has said something to the effect of requiring local production of medical supplies. I assume face masks would be included.

    It seems to me, there is a lot of detailed business and industry economic research required before one can make plans for “unlocking”.

    Then there is the financing question. Would the unemployed, the pensioners, and low income earners get a situation specific ration of these masks free with any additional request to be paid full price?

    Then there is the risk of the “unlocking” resulting in significant flare ups. This is strictly outside economics, except one may have to try to cost such an event for business and for the health system, given advice from the health professionals. Again this requires some empirical research, getting information from small and medium sized businesses and from large corporations.

  14. John Gross, there are different risk levels in different parts of the country. So what might be suitable for South Australia might be dangerous in NSW. Also, the rest of the country can safely “lose” South Australia and rope it off if — against expectation — things take a dramatic turn for the worse there.

    That said, maybe it would be safe to allow more people to meet throughout Australia, but benefits and risks would have to be weighed up and I expect it makes more sense to hit this thing on the head right now. There are lots of things we could be doing but are not. Given that the sooner we end transmission in Australia the sooner medical resources can be freed up to save lives in other countries, I think we should step up the rate it’s being eliminated.

  15. Testing indeed, but you need all three Ts: Testing, Tracking, and Targeted isolation. As in the fourth T, Taiwan.

  16. Historyintime,

    I can’t believe you just put the words “authorities “, “ingenuity” and “intelligence” in the the same sentence! 😉

  17. Harry Clarke above refers to long term uncertainty about COVID-19 outcomes. He is right to do so.

    “We are as yet uncertain of reinfection possibilities and of long-term damages from the virus to the lungs, the heart and the vascular system – some of the recent news is scary.” – H.C.


    This stands in contrast to the blithe non-medical and political assumptions, in at least some quarters, that it is okay to pursue herd immunity and/or to send kids to schools rather than shut schools down. We do not know yet what the sequelae of even mild COVID-19 infections will be. New data may be beginning to show that reinfection with or re-emergence of the disease is possible.

    The name COVID-19 is branding error in my view and has played a role in trivializing the disease, at least early on. The correct taxonomic term for the pathogen, SARS-CoV-2, should have been given to the disease itself. Colloquially, this would have been shortened to SARS 2. People are familiar with version numbers these days. Given the fearsome reputation of SARS, the term SARS 2 would have conveyed a more correct impression of the fear and respect we should have been showing towards the dangers of this virus from very early on.

  18. Taiwan has a comparable population size to Australia’s and at the moment is only recording 2 to 5 new COVID 19 cases on most days, so it seems possible that Taiwan will eliminate the virus prior to the roll out of a vaccine. However, they only had a couple hundred cases to begin with whereas Oz has several thousand cases and I don’t think Australians are as disciplined or as willing to be as closely monitored as the Taiwanese.

    I hope our government is paying close attention to Taiwan’s approach to the crisis.

    Personally, I am also happy to give up some privacy and allow the government to track our daily movements via our mobile phones.

  19. Ikonoclast
    You have the uncanny ability to pick the bad news out of all of the information that is out there. I’m sure you know about the pessimistic bias in your thinking, (as I know about my optimistic bias). And there are advantages in having a mix of pessimists (and optimists) in society, as between us we are likely to get closer to the truth. But pessimists do often get their predictions wrong. And so I would like to point out that in Monday message board on March 30, 2020 at 4:27 pm you said ‘My guess is that we will have at least 10,000 to 14,000 active cases total by the coming Saturday. I had originally predicted 16,000 cases for the coming Saturday but that prediction included active and resolved cases (recovered or dead). This is still an outside possibility if a surge comes through’.
    The actual number of confirmed cases on Saturday 4th April 2020 was 5,552 cases. Active cases would have been less. And 6,292 cases on April 11th.
    John Goss

  20. “The other key issue, which I’ve mentioned before, is that of option value. If a decision is easily reversed, at relatively low cost, it has an option value relative to a decision that is effectively irreversible. That’s why it made sense to lock down early, rather than waiting to see if the virus spread.”

    Nuff said? Unlocking without testing?


  21. I think that it is crucial that we encourage government leaders to keep things locked down as long as possible, even to prohibit people from working unless they can work at home or alone is a seperate room. Only grocery shopping (including bakeries) should be allowed.
    But grocery shopping has to be transformed. People have to go to the grocery store with a grocery list which they should give to a grocery employee. The employee will gather the items and then send it to a cashier who will ring it up.
    The cashier will then take his portable card reader out to the customer who will then pay for the groceries with a card of cash and take delivery of the groceries. The cashier will then return to the resister and deposit the cash or card reciept. Rinse and repeat.
    Each day that we can keep the world’s economy shut down adds some time to the doomsday clock.
    If the males of the Saudi Royal Family would see fit to do what they should do, which is committ suicide, which is something that they should have done long ago, the Chinese might decide to reward thegood behavior of the Saudi Royals by giving the rest of the world a vaccine for the virus. I really do not think the Chinese leaders really care how the males of the Saudi Royal family committ suicide. So, it can be in any manner that floats their boat. The Chinese leadership’s opinions could be different two weeks from now though. The Saudi Royals better to act fast while they are still getting a good deal.

  22. John Goss,

    Quite right. I do have a pessimistic bias. I don’t think it affected that particular prediction too much. The lower end of my predicted range was 10,000 cases by the given date and we got 5,552 cases. I made a reasonable prediction at the time given what we had been seeing in Italy, the doubling rate for cases in Australia back then and the fact that Morrison was slow in doing shutdowns. The strong state premiers probably made the difference; all of them except Qld’s premier basically. To be out by a factor of 2 in a rapidly evolving exponential growth scenario is not too bad.

    There is a hypothesis about Depressive Realism. (I would call myself a Depressive Realist.)

    “Depressive realism is the hypothesis developed by Lauren Alloy and Lyn Yvonne Abramson that depressed individuals make more realistic inferences than non-depressed individuals. Although depressed individuals are thought to have a negative cognitive bias that results in recurrent, negative automatic thoughts, maladaptive behaviors, and dysfunctional world beliefs, depressive realism argues not only that this negativity may reflect a more accurate appraisal of the world but also that non-depressed individuals’ appraisals are positively biased.” – Wikipedia.

    Experiments with automated agents have shown that a small optimism bias, if designed well and weighted correctly, can assist some automated agents to achieve better outcomes. Similarly an optimism bias probably does help most people have successful personal outcomes in life. If this is true then speaking in evo-psych terms it makes sense that an optimism bias has evolved. I think it true to say that well adjusted people have a moderate optimism bias and that this usually assists them individually in life. However, we have to be careful of the fallacy of composition. We ought not to infer out of hand that an optimistic large society is in the same position as an optimistic person. (Humans originally evolved in small hunter-gather bands, not inlarge societies.)

    Think of the following example of the fallacy of composition.

    “If someone stands up out of their seat at a cricket match, they can see better. Therefore, if everyone stands up, they can all see better.”

    Our society has shown optimism (positive belief) in free markets and in techno-fixes. A realistic assessment would point out that this is not working out very well for us now (climate change to zoonotic disease outbreaks) and that our future prospects are not good. Most scientists who understand climate change and biosphere systems privately admit they are very frightened by the real world data at this stage.

    It’s interesting, to me at least, that many baby boomer males retain their enculturated optimism bias (it’s not all of innate psychological origin) while very young people (Greta Thunberg) see right through the modern economic and techno myths and appear extraordinarily clear-sighted about the realities of our position.

  23. I’ve mostly kept out of the pandemic debates but if there is any issue that I think stands out as crucial to get on top of it is testing capability. In many cases the divergent opinions we see look like a consequence of that lack of testing. If case numbers are kept low enough from shut down and distancing then we can get somewhere with tracking vectors and doing more precisely targeted quarantining, but only if testing is very widespread and, for a time, done frequently.

  24. Just in case people are worried about supply constraints, I’ll mention testing can consist of a body temperature reading and asking a question. These days, what with lasers in the jungle and all, it can be more than this and preferably it would be, but the basics of the three Daleks of the Pandemic remain the same even if only available technologies are thermometers and checklists — Contain, Eliminate, Vigilance.

  25. Meanwhile, on Paul Frijters’ blog Club Troppo, you can find a case study in arguing that distancing and isolation cost too much. The argument is that the economic cost of distancing and isolation is high; deaths can be assessed at an economic cost, and so the economic cost of distancing and isolation is itself deaths; and so the measures taken are unjustified.
    In discussion, Frijters and some others on his blog have resisted the idea that any measure of economic cost of distancing and isolation must be compared with the same sort of measure of the cost of unrestrained COVID-19 outbreak.
    Frijters argues that the death rate from COVID-19 is no more than 0.2%. Challenged, he says this is actually overly pessimistic. Implicitly, only the deaths from COVID-19 count as costs of an outbreak.
    Others argue that distancing and isolation will only spread the same overall level of deaths over time, and so have no benefit. Implicitly, there are no costs from larger outbreak peaks overwhelming the medical system.
    Another view is that most deaths in Northern Italy and so far in NSW are of people over 70. Implicitly, deaths among older people are relatively unimportant.
    I recommend Club Troppo’s two estimation posts, and the comments of enthusiastic opponents of distancing and isolation, to anyone wondering how the ‘open the economy’ thinking can be set out.
    Frijters hand-waves away challenge to his tiny death rate. He also hand-waves away the opinion of the panel of USA economists that costs of taking action are much less than the costs of unrestrained outbreak, saying that their opinions are an indictment on the state of economic analysis in the USA.
    Prof Q may need to say a bit more about the proper comparison of the costs of action to the costs of unrestrained outbreak.

  26. Chrishod, I suggest once this is all over, we give a random selection of people over 70 suicide pills for a period of 24 hours. If 99% take them then we can safely conclude the lives of people over 70 are mostly worthless.

  27. Chrishod, I have also been reading Frijters’ posts. To his credit, he does attempt to come up with an overall cost-benefit analysis of the case for social distancing. Basically he is saying the deaths are not a big deal which, in a sense is true. 100,000 deaths so from the virus so far compare with 1 million deaths globally from all causes every week – many of these are preventable. But still, as someone over 70, I selfishly don’t want to sacrifice myself. Very few people at any age do. I think your critique of his economics is accurate and I don’t share his strong epidemiological confidence about the consequences of excessively straining the health system – a lot of younger people may die as well. I also think delaying deaths has benefits because we can learn in an uncertain situation – how to live with an extant virus, search for medical relief etc.. But I agree with Frijters’ contention that the social/economic costs of continued separation policies are huge.

    Maybe, too, there are difficult ethical issues here that lie at the core of things. Does the welfare argument here boil down to the survival perspective of the individual vs the survival perspective of the herd? A fundamental tension — the herd might be better off by walking away from some individuals doomed to die in the near future and who will be a handbrake on the herd.

    This moral question has no black & white answer. It depends on your welfare function. Conventional economic utilitarians are more likely to sacrifice us oldies than Rawlsians.

  28. On the death rate, comment on another blog sent me poking around in the US CDC stats database. US deaths from pneumonia and flu usually run between 1300 and 1600 weekly. From the first week of February this year they run over 4000 weekly. This tells us first that estimates in the absence of testing is almost certainly a severe under-estimate and second that the disease reached the US in early January – probably at about the same time that the Chinese identified it.

  29. The value of a statistical year of life recommended by the federal government in 2019 was $213,000, with future years discounted by 3% per year. If each averted COVID-19 death saves five years of life (this is the value used by the epidemiologist Tony Blakely, himself a fan of seeking herd immunity), this amounts to very slightly over one million dollars per death.

    An uncontrolled epidemic would grossly overwhelm ICU capacity, and the death rate would be nearer 2% rather than 1%, with about 100% rather than 50% of those requiring intensive care dying.
    It would infect around 60% of the population before starting to peter out. People would thus be prepared to pay on average a little over $12,000, which is 15-16% of annual GDP per capita in 2019, to avoid such a risk of dying.

    Interestingly, the BBC recently reported that most forecasters expect this quarter’s GDP in the UK to be down 13 to 15%. (I haven’t seen a similarly up-to-date summary of forecasts for Australia.) Thus, even if social distancing were the only suppression tool available, a year-long lockdown would be a good trade for avoiding an uncontrolled epidemic. And this doesn’t take into account the economic disruption that an uncontrolled epidemic would itself cause.

    We will hopefully do a lot better through the careful and staged lifting of social distancing restrictions and substitution of less costly measures of controlling virus spread.

    (This analysis ignores the potential for longer-term economic damage from a prolonged lockdown, but it also ignores the long-term health impacts of COVID-19. It ignores the costs of a lockdown not fully reflected in GDP—such as not seeing your relatives—but it also ignores the costs of death not reflected in year of life values—such as the mental health impacts of accidently killing your relatives.)

  30. I appreciate Harry Clarke’s comment. There are real welfare issues and these need discussion.
    However I cannot agree that Paul Frijters attempts to come up with an overall cost-benefit analysis. His analysis is to decry the costs of action but with no estimate at all of the benefits of action; and to justify ignoring the costs of uncontrolled outbreak by denying that there’s a material death rate and ignoring all other costs, of the very kind he carefully sums as costs of action.
    Nor is it sound to note that, in fact, in lopsided old-people contexts like cruise ships and Northern Italy, deaths are very largely among older people. Certainly older people are very much more likely to die of COVID-19 when they get it. But younger people do die too if they get the disease; and younger people get sick too, even if they are more likely then to recover.
    I don’t know the cost of uncontrolled outbreak. Probably those costs have several different sums depending on different more or less plausible outbreak paths. But all would have substantial impacts on production and on demand. And the ‘overloading’ scenarios, with high peak impacts, would have very substantial costs…even if relatively few actually died of COVID-19 itself.

  31. Cost-benefit analyses are logically meaningless if not couched in scientific (SI) units. I know conventional economists will have a great deal of trouble understanding this point. UTILs and WELLBYs are meaningless units. SNALTs from Marxism are also meaningless units. All of these units have no real, objective dimension. [1] In a word, they are not scientific units.

    UTILs and WELLBYs (in conventional or capitalist economics) are measured in a standard numeraire, the most important being the (US) dollar. The problem is that the unit (the dollar) corresponds to nothing real.

    “In dimensional analysis, a dimensionless quantity is a quantity to which no physical dimension is assigned, also known as a bare, pure, or scalar quantity or a quantity of dimension one, with a corresponding unit of measurement in the SI of the unit one which is not explicitly shown. Dimensionless quantities are widely used in many fields, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, and economics.” [2]

    Dimensionless quantities may be pure numbers (for example 1, i, π, e, and units of number such as the dozen, gross, googol, and Avogadro’s number. OR dimensionless quantities may be ratios, proportions or angles. “Dimensionless quantities are often obtained as ratios of quantities that are not dimensionless, but whose dimensions cancel out in the mathematical operation.” [3]

    The problem is that while the use of dimensionless quantities in mathematics, physics, chemistry and engineering is valid, any use in economics is invalid if and when a numeraire is used to aggregate unlike things This refers to the so-called aggregation problem. Unlike objects can only be aggregated on a common dimension. The air-frame, engines, humans, luggage and fuel of an aircraft may be validly aggregated in the mass dimension (to do calculations related to maximum safe take-off weight).

    The (money) numeraire is conventionally used to aggregate costs in an economy. In this way we can value human lives against air-frames, luggage and fuel, to persist with the above given example. A valuation of 1 million dollars on any given item contains a pure number of 1 million (a dimensionless unit) and that so far is accaptable. But the other term is also dimensionless. The dollar is dimensionless. We cannot point to any real objective dimension (in scientific measurement terms) to which the dollar refers. One is tempted to point out in jocular fashion that this gives rise to “dimensionlessness” squared which about sums up the nonsense of measuring all things in dollars, at least from the scientific and objective ontological view.

    The dollar (numeraire) is given meaning in another way.. It is not a physical dimension, it is a social construct treated as a dimension. Its value and operations are prescribed NOT described. Thus a dollar is what we say it is and calculate it is. What is a dollar? The dollar is a unit of currency. This in turn begs a definition of currency.

    “A currency (from Middle English: curraunt, “in circulation”, from Latin: currens, -entis), in the most specific sense is money in any form when in use or circulation as a medium of exchange, especially circulating banknotes and coins.[1][2] A more general definition is that a currency is a system of money (monetary units) in common use, especially for people in a nation.” [4]

    A currency is money. Money is currency. We note already the troubling circular logic of the definition. However, the dollar and its value(s) are defined in the real political-social acts of creating and destroying dollars out of and into nothing (ex nihilo and ab nihilo) since they are purely notional, and then in the holding, use, transfer and exchange of them, often via markets but also by gifting, gaming, theft, forfeiture, fining, blackmail, being lost and found and so on. There are also transactions which are made illegal, goods and services which cannot (legally) be traded for money. Human slaves are one example. Thus the formal (and practical) value(s) of money are generated by a great and messy melange of political and social acts; prescriptions, permissions and prohibitions.

    There is nothing in this process which grants an objective reality to money unless it be taken as a kind of constructed social “dimension”. Money is legal, fictive, social and an “object” held in great desire by many persons. These are hardly qualities which encourage a thinking person to deduce that it might measure things objectively and be a valid unit of aggregation of disparate objects and processes, including human lives. Specifically, money and its prescribed operations (along with the laws governing private property, legal and illegal goods and other matters) is a complex moral philosophy construct, a set of ethics in short. Its prime ethic or prime directive (clearly a prescription) is to value (almost) everything in money (lives, ecologies, animals, boots, haircuts, automobiles, billionaire’s gated retreats and so on). It is sufficient for a person to say “I reject this ethic” to reject all calculations in money other than perhaps accepting pragmatically the aggregation of relatively like items, like humanly edible foods, and their denomination in food prices. Even this very limited and conditional acceptance may be suspended and abandoned in the face of say a famine or a pandemic like COVID-19.

    People cannot have failed to notice that the prescribed operations of money have had to be partially and significantly abandoned in the face of a real crisis, the COVID-19 crisis. The notional, dimensionless nonsense that is money fails in many real-world situations where real world variables, measurable in real dimensions, clash with the abstract and prescriptive modelling of money of any given political economy system. The model fails and stubborn reality remains to be dealt with via real pragmatic actions contingent on real resources and answering to a wider conception of ethics (moral philosophy) than mere money calculations.

    A person may validly say, “I reject the money-measures-eveything ethical axiom and I refute thus any specific theorem based solely on that axiom”. To support this case I point out the “dimensionlessness” of money in scientific-objective terms and the extensive diminution of its operative social and financial uses in a real objective crisis; involving real quantities in real dimensions going outside the effective operative bounds of conventional money circuits. The COVID-19 crisis is a case in point.

    Note 1: SNALTs (Socially Necessary Abstract Labor Time) masquerade as objective units but only one term has a real dimension (the time dimension) . The SNALT is measured in hours but it is really in practical use the Socially Abstract Necessary Labor per hour multiplied by x hours (if considering x SNALTs). Hence, the hours cancel and one is left with “Socially Necessary Abstract Labor” a dimensionless unit. See the work “Capital as Power” by Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan for a discussion of UTILs and SNALTs and their objective invalidity).

    Note 2: Wikipedia.

    Note 3: Wikipedia.

    Note 4: Wikipedia

  32. Ikonoclast @ 11/4/20 , 5:43 wrote:
    “I don’t recall what Ernestine Gross said on this issue (“early lockdown”) but I think she must have done so too given the general tenor of her comments.”

    I didn’t post anything on the issue of early lockdown. I am not qualified to have an opinion on when the right time is to introduce a “lockdown”. I relied on the medical information provided to various governments and to the public. However, it was and is the case that I would not be in favour of a ‘the survival of the fittest’ idea as is implied in ‘herd immunity” (no vaccination). Similarly, I consider the argument that there is a trade-off between ‘the economy’ and ‘lockdown’ to save lives to be non-sense.

    As for philosophical issues, as nicely introduce by Harry Clarke, I work on the assumption that all individuals have strictly convex preferences over consumption today and tomorrow and the day after, ….., Which amounts to saying everybody wishes to live another day and another one …… Let those who have different preferences please stand up (excluding people who have opted for euthanasia before 1 January 2020).

  33. You have to be careful with stats, anecdotal evidence from ER and paramedics in NYC is that they are getting a huge increase in cardiac arrest, mostly fatal. These fatalities are not regarded as falling under the COVID-19 heading, which is usually from hypoxia.

    There seems to be compounding (exponential) effects to COVID-19.

  34. Harry above mentioned the approx 100,000 deaths recorded from Covid 19 re cost-benefit analysis. There are reports in the NYT, BBC, SBS and so on that suggest significant under-reporting of deaths even in developing countries.

    Not everyone who dies, especially out of hospital, is getting tested for Covid 19. I saw a report about a local paper in Italy where the obituary column went from 1 or 2 pages a day to up to 13 pages but many of those extra deaths were not attributed to Covid 19. Apparently burying the dead is currently a bigger priority than testing them post-mortem.

    Moreover, even in the USA, there are reports of poor people going hungry. I have grave fears for what may happen in India etc if food supply and distribution is interrupted. Widespread famine isn’t out of the question.

  35. If we assume there’s a cover up, which I would argue is reasonable given that Scott Morrison is Prime Minister, it would appear to be in relation to testing. The fact that Tasmania is not randomly testing one in ten people in the state seems to imply either that they don’t have 30,000 tests or that they are saving the tests so if the number of cases spike they can determine cause of death for those who lose their lives.

  36. The strong case for just sucking up the large one-time economic costs of a lockdown is that these will happen anyway. Think of a no-action herd immunity scenario. At some point the death rate goes so high that everybody self-isolates voluntarily, like Isaac Newton if less productively. The economy tanks, very probably worse because it’s chaotic and it will be hard to maintain essential services. Wimpy mitigation gets you to the same place more slowly. JQ keeps telling us to think in terms of opportunity cost. The OC of a lockdown is zero.

  37. The Fritjers analysis is very interesting. My bias is that this is going to be seen as the worse policy mistake since appeasement.

    But as always, I actually come at these things from a selfish perspective.

    Given my age and general decrepitude, I probably have a 2% chance of dying if I get the virus. Plus maybe a 20% chance of a very miserable month if i get a bad case.

    Conversely, this is going to cost me about 50K (no not stock losses, something else) and cause at least 6 months of minor misery due to the lockdown. Then there’s the backend when the Government goes into Austerity mode again, as it will if it remains Tory.

    So, ahhh, tough call but I’d probably take the risk actually.

    And I reckon many people would, even oldies.

  38. James Wimberley
    Its the marginal cost versus the marginal benefit that one gets from moving from one level of restrictions to a tighter level that we should be trying to estimate. And the marginal opportunity costs of moving from the restrictions before March 29, to the stage 3 restrictions (rule of 2 and stay at home if at all possible), and then to the stage 4 restrictions of lockdown (as in NZ) are certainly not zero, and I would argue that the marginal benefit of the tighter restrictions has been minor. The option value argument is valid, but only if society is prepared to loosen the restrictions quickly when it turns out the tighter restrictions are not cost-effective. And decision makers are usually reluctant to quickly reverse a set of restrictions, for all sorts of psychological reasons. If we see some restrictions being relaxed in the next two weeks, in the light of the remarkable reduction in number of new cases we have seen in the last 2 weeks, then that will prove my expectations about the stickiness of new restrictions to be wrong. And I hope I am wrong, because I think the stage 3 restrictions of the last 2 weeks are causing very significant social and economic damage.

  39. Ikonoclast
    The key problem with your erroneous forecast of growth of cases on March 30th was that you had apparently not seen that the data for the week from March 22 to March 29 had shown a decline from a growth rate of 26% a day on March 22 to 9% a day on March 29. In other words the curve had been bending away from the previous consistent exponential growth of 24 to 26% a day for 7 days, but you did not allow for this in your prediction/projection/forecast.

  40. John Goss,

    You say, “I think the stage 3 restrictions of the last 2 weeks are causing very significant social and economic damage.”

    But they also saved many deaths. If you were an ICU doctor or a nurse or a patient (or someone in your family was) you would care about that. How much economic and social damage do you think mass deaths cause? Do you think that allowing many more infections and deaths will be of less cost socially and economically? You can’t know this at all. We do not know what the long term ramifications or sequelae of COVID-19 are physically let alone the other ramifications.

    Honestly, I think people make a fetish of the economy and of money. This fetish is worth more to them than real people are, meaning real people they don’t know. We really only need essential goods and services to live on and we can run these even in total war let alone in a mere stage 3 lock-down. The loss of jobs and income is of course a problem but welfare can and should be made available. Mass deaths would be much worse and signing the death warrents of doctors, nurses and other people in essential services is completely unconscionable (and indeed more costly than the lock-down).

  41. John Goss: “The option value argument is valid, but only if society is prepared to loosen the restrictions quickly when it turns out the tighter restrictions are not cost-effective.” No. We can’t immediately know whether the restrictions have staved off the apocalypse until we are near to eradication and can shift to a 3T strategy. The kind of marginal cost-benefit analysis you propose is impracticable. Governments have simply to make a big bet on suppression vs, mitigation.

    I was watching Emmerich’s potboiler war epic “Midway” on Netflix. It’s rah-rah American patriotism with all the psychological subtlety of a comic book, but as far as I can make out it’s historically pretty accurate. Consider Nimitz’ decisions (a) to believe his cryptanalysts over Japanese intentions (b) to accept battle without a material advantage. He moved all his three carriers to a position where they could intercept the Japanese fleet. The result, with considerable elements of luck and good judgement by some of his subordinates, was a crushing American victory. The point I’m getting at is that Nimitz did not have an incremental option. Risking one carrier was pointless. It was all in or nothing. The Imperial College modelling has shown that the same structure applies to this epidemic.

  42. As a baseline, if you don´t work and you get free time in return for not working, so the economic damage is zero. Thus all calculations that count the entire gdp drop as loss are mighty ridiculous. Most capital intense industrial production got exceptions from shutdown pretty much everywhere. In the non insane world the impact on human happieness of contact bans is the key isssue, not god damn gdp. In terms of lifes lost due to mental health impacts and the like – well if people go to a really dark place because they lose their job or something like that, its possible, but it mainly happens due to secondary problems regarding inequality that can be mitigated. Anyway, how long do we expect this to last? As far as i remember the studies, the first 3 month of unemploymend tend to have a positive health impact. Only afterwards the lack of day structure, preocapations with status and income etc. have a worse effect than the lack of work stress. There are also some very significant positive side effects. Less traffic death, less environmental pollution, less noise.

  43. Our biggest mistake would be to think we can return to BAU (Business As Usual) after this pandemic. What about the climate crisis? Remember that? Runaway global warming and sea level rise, which are near certain to happen under capitalist BAU, will soon make this pandemic look like a picnic.

    In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic itself is a result of BAU. We are seeing the rise of zoonotic diseases, created by encroaching on wilderness, slaughtering wild animals in wet markets and eating them. This process is entwined with the financial and material practices of industrial agriculture (monoculture) and factory farming which can also lead to systemic food system collapses (swine fever, avian flu) and further zoonotic disease outbreaks wreaking havoc on both us and our food animal species.

    This is worth a serious reading;

    The biosphere is now seriously out of balance in terms of ecology, organic and inorganic flows & cycles and system dynamics from atmospheric processes to oceans currents, sea level rise, rain-forest destruction and topsoil losses. Then there are issues like the pollutants and toxins from hydrocarbons to micro-plastics, drugs, medicines, endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, and so on, being almost ubiquitous in the environment.

    Our vast industrial and financial capital system is killing the earth in the sense that it is destroying the relatively benign Holocene climate and ecology leading to a new age called the Anthropocene for good reason. This has brought on the sixth mass extinction including “Insectageddon”.

    These dire processes and outcomes cannot be avoided by BAU or even by techno-fixes alone. We have to radically change the “circuits of capital” so that they do not destroy the circuits of climate and ecology. Any hope or belief in returning to capitalist BAU and thriving or even surviving is in vain. If we return to BAU after our latest warnings (catastrophic bush-fires around the world and then the COVID-19 pandemic) then we simply ensure our own collapse and extinction.

    All but essential services of the economy will have to be foregone to save the global ecosystems and eco-services on which we completely depend. This means an end to the whole era and ethos of profligate consumerism. It means an end to capitalism. There are only two ways for capitalism to end. One, we continue attempted endless growth and consumerism under capitalism and suffer inevitable civilizational and population collapse OR we dismantle consumerism and capitalism proactively and build a new system. This will have to be based on democratic socialism, ecologism, thermoeconomics and complex systems theory. It will include a central role for democratically legitimized statism or dirgisme: in short a command economy run by democracy on the political side, by hard science on the material and life sciences side (with impact science being placed in a position of supervision over production science) and finally run according to the moral philosophy precepts of the major world religious and secular ethical teachings where these precepts are one, life affirming and two, fully supportive of equal human rights.

  44. Ikonoclast and hix
    For me, this issue has never been about maximising GDP. It’s been about well-being. As Peter Singer and Michael Plant said

    ‘COVID-19 will be with us for some time. Are months of government-enforced lockdowns the right policy? We don’t know, and as moral philosophers, we can’t answer this question on our own. Empirical researchers need to take on the challenge of calculating the effects, not in terms of wealth or health, but in the ultimate currency, wellbeing.’

    Nor is reducing Covid 19 deaths our only goal. Unfortunately much of the public debate has been about how we reduce that one metric.

    Ikonoclast said in response to my statement that “I think the stage 3 restrictions of the last 2 weeks are causing very significant social and economic damage.”, by saying ‘But they also saved many deaths’.
    This is a good example of the one-dimensional thinking that focuses only on Covid 19 deaths. (By the way, there is no evidence that the marginal impact of the stage 3 restrictions in Australia introduced from 29 March has saved any lives . Its too early to know, as there’s a time lag of 2 to 3 weeks between new restrictions and lives saved).

    Hix’s argument is much more interesting. I think we can agree that there is significant social and economic damage from our interventions to control the virus. The increase in unemployment is an exemplar of this damage. But the first round effects are not the end of the story. How we respond to increased unemployment determines what the social impact of that unemployment will be, and as ‘hix’ points out, if you act quickly enough to deal with unemployment, the short term benefits of unemployment may actually outweigh the short and medium term costs. And so far the societal response in Australia to the negatives induced by our virus control interventions has been pretty constructive. So we have a conservative government doing many of the right things with regard to the economic damage we are suffering, and we have many people in Australian society acting to help those who are suffering from the stay at home restrictions. There really has been an outbreak of kindness and helping our neighbours which I have never seen before.

    So the paradox is that in the medium term we may emerge from this crisis in better shape.

    It reminds me of the science fiction trope of wars between nations ceasing, because the world needs to come together to fight an alien invasion. Sometimes a crisis leads to greater societal cohesion and perhaps net utility improvements.

    And that may be happening in Australia in this current crisis, (though it is not happening in the US).

    So does my agreement with many points in ‘hix’s analysis mean that I am retracting my original argument?
    No. I think in public policy we have to make our decisions mostly based on first order expected social costs and benefits. Its too hard to, in advance, get a grip on second and third order effects. And based on first order expected social costs and benefits, I think there is a very good case for relaxing the stage 3 restrictions as soon as is practical. In addition, I would say that the longer we keep them on, the more we are in danger of losing the social cohesion we have gained in responding to a common challenge.

    That doesn’t mean I am advocating for removing all restrictions as soon as possible. We need to have much more considered society wide debate before we go beyond relaxing the stage 3 restrictions.

  45. John Goss,

    (1) Stage 3 restrictions are mainly social and of little further economic import beyond stage 2 restrictions. Stage 3 restrictions are of family, social and psychological import.

    (2) The Stage 2 restrictions were those of major economic import (especially for non-essential economic activities). Stage 2 restrictions also had strong social and psychological imports apart from loss of income itself,;meaning loss of security and loss of the social and psychological value of work to people.

    (3) We can assume that the governments, federal and state, their medical heads and their expert modellers considered (from their extensive expertise, knowledge and advice) that social and family interactions beyond the stage 2 restrictions still posed a significant possible vector space for maintaining the infection rate above the rate which would permit (a) flattening the curve below a (raised) ICU capacity and/or (b) eradication if that emerged as a real and attractive possibility.

    (4) You seem to assume that Stage 3 restrictions are either simply gratuitous, over-reactive, paranoid or intentionally repressive. You do not consider the possibility of 3 above.

    (5) I find very one-dimensional the view that a focus on COVID-19 deaths itself is “one-dimensional thinking”. Actually, implicit in that focus is a very deep whole-of-systems understanding of the great social and economic damage that would (and does) flow from high rates of COVID-19 deaths (as in Italy, the USA and others) in both the aged and general community and specifically in the medical and care professions (who are very valuable people).

    (6) Finally for a homily. Dealing with this crisis is going to take a degree of toughness at all levels. Your assumption seem to be that most humans are psychologically fragile rather than reasonably robust and that they possess few personal resources internally and in close, inner household bonds. We need to woman-up and man-up and stop crying that we cannot handle a few weeks (or even months) at home reading, exercising, cooking, thinking, dragging out the board games, going online extensively for work, socializing, games and so on. Perhaps this weakness (real or perceived) is due to an excessive reliance on consumer-mediated rituals and socializing at a loss of deeper values. if people are weak except when they are in large gatherings and mobs or over-indulging in consumer products, then they are weak indeed and made so by consumerism and self-indulgence themsleves.

    For a start, I would imagine that all truly religious people would treat this seriously as a retreat where they introspect and pray heavily. Their faith must be weak indeed, poorly considered and poorly internalized if they cannot do this. For non-religious, “intellectual” people like me, it can be taken as a philosophical and empirical sciences learning retreat for further introspection of the inner self and analysis of the world beyond the self. For physical task oriented people it can be taken as an exercise and physical tasks retreat (house and yard tasks too though this is difficult in small flat and apartment living I grant): another reason why the Aussie 1/4 acre block and house is a darn fine idea and one we should return to for healthy and ecological living, vegetable garden and all.

    I scarcely know whether to pity or despise those poor, weak, empty boofheads who can only live by going to the footy and getting on the grog or even youngsters who can only live by going to concerts and entertainments. I guess I should pity them because consumer capitalism has played a large role in making them so weak, empty, idea-free and dare I say it, one-dimensional. My 90 year old, recently widowed father-in-law is living alone and receiving only our social visits a couple of times a week (my wife and I plus her siblings on separate days – still an infection chain risk even in that to be honest) to bring food (prepared and unprepared) and to talk (as well as phone callsof course). He is facing all this with an unschooled philosophy and native fortitude as best he can (he was a practical working man and remains a smart and surprisingly sensitive man though not educated to formal thought and introspection). If he can do it, HAS to do it, while suffering very considerable mental and physical pain (from) pre-existing conditions though most in better health should be able to do it.

    If people are struggling, yes seek help for sure. But also consider self-toughening up and not just collapsing in a heap and “dropping your bundle” as my great-depression-schooled mother used to say or simply being “a pack of weak bastards” as my New Guinea Campaign father used to say. We (the baby boomers to the latest adult generation in Australia) are in many ways, in the main, the softest, most cosseted generations in all of history. Now, it’s our turn to show what we are made of. Are we made of anything worthwhile?

    We brought this on ourselves. We have to suck it up. We ignored the scientists warnings of everything from pandemics to climate change. We over-indulged in consumer products, the negative externalities of which were and are destroying the world as a livable place for humans. The least we can do is toughen up, knuckle down to fix this and stop belly-aching “it hurts too much and I can’t do it.”


    Let us examine Stage 3 restrictions. They vary in detail state by state. We can examine Victoria’s stage 3 restrictions. I live in Queensland but I think ours are close to Victoria’s so Victoria’s will do.


    Under these measures – and in line with the Prime Minister’s announcement last night – there will only be four reasons to leave your house, Mr Andrews said. These are for:

    • food and supplies
    • exercise
    • medical care
    • work and education (if you cannot do so from home).

    “Just so we’re clear: ‘getting some exercise’ means going for a walk round the block or a bike ride to stretch your legs and get some fresh air,” Mr Andrews wrote in a thread on Twitter.
    “It means staying local – not driving for miles or being out all day.”
    Gatherings of more than two people, except for members of your immediate household and for work and education, are also now off limits.”

    These are quite stringent and possibly necessarily so until we achieve eradication or a very low, flattened curve well below ICU and general hospital capacity. We may have achieved the latter (a week or two more will tell) but a breakout after Stage 3 restrictions are lifted could still be possible. This is the possibility that you seem to ignore.


    We need to remember what was banned nationally under stage 2 restrictions it’s a long list.

    Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours are among the latest things banned by the Federal Government to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Australia.

    Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the measures on Tuesday which included shutting down food courts except for takeaway.

    Cafes will continue to be allowed to provide takeaway only. Food markets will continue to operate in all states and territories.

    Hairdressers and barber shops will remain open with up to 30 minute appointments and the 1 person per 4 square metre rule applies in the premises. Spas and massage parlours will have to shut, as will s trip clubs, brothels and sex on premises venues.

    Auctions, open house inspections will also be banned along with amusement parks and arcades. Play centres are also now included in the shutdown.

    Community and recreation centres, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre, spin facilities, saunas, wellness centres will shut.

    Boot camps and personal training sessions are limited to a maximum of 10 people with strict social distancing rules observed.

    Social sporting-based activities and swimming pools will be ordered to close.

    Galleries, museums, national institutions, historic sites, libraries, community centres, non-essential facilities, community facilities such as halls will be closed.

    Caravan and camping parks will be a decision for each state and territory.

  46. You say Iconoclast that
    ‘(3) We can assume that the governments, federal and state, their medical heads and their expert modellers considered (from their extensive expertise, knowledge and advice) that social and family interactions beyond the stage 2 restrictions still posed a significant possible vector space for maintaining the infection rate above the rate which would permit (a) flattening the curve below a (raised) ICU capacity and/or (b) eradication if that emerged as a real and attractive possibility.’

    I can say as a Canberra insider that the above is unfortunately not the case. Paul Kelly and Brendon Murphy both said last week that the Australian specific modelling has not been finished, and won’t be finished for some ‘weeks’. The hard line approach favoured by Andrews, Berijiklian and later Palaszczuk which led to stage 3 restrictions in those States was really decided on (small p) political grounds not health grounds. (See this article by Michelle Grattan for a good summary of the debate. https://theconversation.com/grattan-on-friday-which-leaders-and-health-experts-will-be-on-the-right-side-of-history-on-covid-19-policy-134801). There were very good academics and politicians on both sides of the debate, but it was not expert modelling based on the Australian data which was the deciding factor, because such modelling wasn’t available. Instead the arguments were based on expertise, previous experience with epidemics and judgement as to what the latest data meant.
    As you know, I think the data already show the hardliners were wrong, and were ‘on the wrong side of history’ to use Grattan’s words.

    But that history of 2 weeks ago is somewhat beside the point at present, because I think a consensus is emerging among almost everyone that the near-elimination strategy advocated by John Quiggin is feasible, given the trends in the covid 19 community transmission cases in Australia, and optimal. The debate now is exactly what sort of measures do we need in order to maintain near- elimination, and once that is sorted, the exit strategy with regard to easing of restrictions should become clear.

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