Updated: Mar 27
Covid-19 has exposed a failure of government’s across the globe to act proactively in the interest of their residents. Governments should have begun contingency preparations as soon as the first case was reported months ago. Ramping up orders of testing kits, stockpiling PPE and manufacturing ventilators. Had governments done this proactively, there would have been a less drastic squeeze on the supply of these items now. Instead, officials dithered and failed to take the virus seriously. It was not inevitable that societies had to succumb to Covid-19. Now, we must do all we can to ensure we bend but do not break.
Consequently, the primary goal now within the UK is to stop the spread of Covid-19 (reduce the rate of transmission) and subsequently relieve the pressure on the NHS.
The UK has introduced stringent measures to achieve their stated goal as you can only leave home for 1 of 4 reasons
“shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home”
This still leaves a possibility for transmission of the Covid-19 virus but reduces it drastically. As long as the risk is not eliminated individuals should continue to be urged to practice physical distancing (keep 2 metres apart). However, it must be assumed that not everyone will follow these measures and there have been reports of social distancing being ignored. This is a severe risk and must be treated as such.
Lockdown measures require physical police patrols to enforce them. To allow police to focus on this objective, stricter lockdown measures must be taken such dramatically narrowing the definition of essential and limiting the number of shopping trips. Crime rates should be drastically reduced and police can focus most of their attention on enforcing lockdown. These societal measures will not eliminate the transmission of Covid-19. Rather these measures will remove unnecessary pressure on the NHS.
To further alleviate the pressure on the NHS, track and trace ((identify people who have come into contact with a positive case and isolate them) measures must be implemented to prevent unnecessary transmission among essential workers. Furthermore, antibody testing is another measure that may help identify who has had the virus. As supply is short on antibody tests too these tests must be directed toward NHS staff to ensure staff can continue their invaluable work.
However, as the virus is relatively new, it cannot be concretely concluded that the number of people infected will or will not be sufficient to resume normal societal activities with antibody tests alone. Therefore, antibody testing must serve as a compliment to Covid-19 tests to accurately identify the number of carriers. Once there is a better understanding of the number of people infected and reduce the rate of transmission will we be able to relax lockdown measures. This may take months however South Korea has demonstrated that the virus can be contained in weeks.
This is only part of the equation because when we emerge at the other end of this tunnel the economy will lie before us.
The economy is the result of our interaction. For the moment our interactions have been curtailed. Thus the economy as we knew it is gone. However the fundamentals of supply and demand will remain and as our interactions return so too will the economy.
As Roman Frydman and Edmund S. Phillips simply noted, our focus now must be maintaining a skeletal economy to allow a shred of everyday life to continue by
Redirecting the economy’s existing productive capacity to overcome the rapidly growing shortages of equipment and services required to respond effectively to the pandemic.
Supporting firms that are not directly involved in efforts to combat the crisis, so that they can continue to supply essential goods and services.
Ensuring that the population has sufficient means to purchase these goods and services.
Creating a financial facility to help those unable to pay their mortgage and meet other obligations, thereby mitigating cataclysmic risks to the financial sector.
The UK government has taken measures to achieve these broad objectives. Private companies are being urged to shift production. Mortgage holidays have been announced to alleviate pressure on households. And the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has introduced a number of financial support measures for the employed. However his measures have allowed renters, self-employed and unemployed individuals to languish on a measly £94-115/week depending on their “entitlement”.
The government has wasted time announcing concentrated measures. For example, announcing separate measures on mortgages and rent or differing employment categories. A Universal Basic Income is the simplest form of supporting essential costs and purchases for all individuals. If sufficiently priced it could have covered mortgage payments as well as bills and food expenses.
Such a measure would have saved time and enabled the government to focus on redirecting existing production capacities toward manufacturing things such as PPE and ventilators as well as securing other necessities to eliminate the transmission of Covid-19 and restore social interaction and the resulting economic activity. Unfortunately, the government has failed to focus on this task and contradictory communications are the result.
Once these measures are in place we can then think about the economy at the other end of this. The UK government is making this effort needlessly complicated while wasting time. While I appreciate the effort being made by representatives but Covid-19 is dangerous and an existential threat to our societies. The time to recognise that normal operations have ceased and now we need quick and simple action.