*Forthcoming in print with The News International, posted here with permission
It’s not just the economy, stupid. Corona virus has finally killed the platitude defining politics of the 90s. It’s about lives. It always was. Sadly, some politicians and interest groups are still insisting otherwise. They’re speaking of social darwinism, possibly prematurely ending lockdowns, and sacrificing those old and sick at the altar of stock markets. Others are suggesting that poor countries can’t afford social distancing through phased shutdowns or suppression measures. They are wrong. Research suggests that countries can’t afford late action or inaction.
A report from the COVID-19 response team at Imperial College London led to recent shutdowns in the US and UK. On March 26, their new global report pointed out that if countries do nothing, an estimated 40 million people will die globally.*
If we mitigate — through shielding the elderly by 60% and reducing our population’s social contact by 40% — then we can save about 20 million lives, but the healthcare systems of all countries would be overwhelmed.
If we suppress — through testing, isolation and wider social distancing through lockdown-like measures that reduce social contact by 75% — then we can save about 30–38.7 million lives globally.
For South Asia, an early suppression strategy could save an estimated 5 million lives. But if we proceed unmitigated, we’re looking at an estimated 7.6 million deaths over 250 days for our region.
Would suppression measures have to be sustained for some time? Yes. Whenever suppression measures stop, cases could resurge. Would the social and economic costs be high for developing countries like Pakistan? Yes. Could those costs be disproportionately high? Depends on who you ask. Those trained in law and ethics don’t put a dollar value to human life. Even economists who do measure the value of statistical life, argue that the cost to the US economy of doing nothing and letting primarily elderly people die will be $8.30 trillion, about half of the size of the US GDP. Such calculations could also apply to Pakistan.
Compared with high income countries, could Pakistan experience lower demand for critical care because our population…