News

The Economy or Lives?

2020-06-29

It seems an age since the 'Lockdown' environment hit Europe and North America, yet it is little more than two months, but in that short time the Covid-19 virus has taken over 220,000 lives in the region, while the economies have gone into meltdown. Unemployment in the USA has already reached levels last seen in the Great Depression, while millions are depending on food banks and seemingly impregnable companies are on the verge of total collapse. 

The question now is what steps to take in order to move back towards normality? 

Some countries have already begun to ease restrictions, but many people are fearful of such moves and the possible uptick in contagion. Afraid to go back to work or for that matter go back to the way of life they had at the start of the year - that is likely to take a long time. However, a view finding an increasingly wide following is that if we do not ‘go back to work’ soon, the damage done to the economy will result in far more deaths than the virus itself. While this still seems to be a minority viewpoint, it is rapidly gaining traction. 

So how can we possibly balance these two factors – save lives or the economy?

The answer of course is not easy, but we must start moving back towards normality , albeit it carefully. A key factor in all this will be confidence. Confidence to go back to work and focus on the job, confidence to go shopping again, confidence to go back into a restaurant, to attend meetings or to travel and stay in hotels. Open up too fast or too carelessly and the fear is of a second wave, particularly as we head into the autumn. If this happens the confidence of the general public will be even more difficult to recapture. 

Consideration must also be given to the almost certain spike in deaths from other ailments, such as cancer, strokes, heart disease and suicides as regular hospital appointments are suspended, and a backlog builds up. The longer this continues the greater this will be. 

There have, of course, been some positive gains from all this... just two to three months ago concerns about the environment were at the top of many people’s concerns, while politicians tried to figure out how to cut air travel, traffic and industrial pollution. In a short space of time however this virus has made it happen, although the smog has apparently started to return to China’s big cities. 

At the same time people generally have become more supportive of each other, more aware of the many things they took for granted (once they managed to build up a stock of toilet paper and other essentials of course). We now see which jobs are really essential to life, and all too often they tend to be among the lowest paid. 

Will this positivity, these silver linings, all evaporate when the taps are turned back on? Hopefully not. Some things will inevitably revert to prior levels – eventually – but perhaps attitudes towards them will be different, more open, more understanding, more respectful of others and the environment, less selfish and kinder. Is it possible to have a vibrant economy without being cutthroat and uncaring?