One senior official in the US state of Texas said that he would rather die than see the American economy suffer. Others across the world have hinted they would like to see things return to normal sooner rather than later.
It’s widely known by now that there is a correlation between mortality rates for Coronavirus patients along age lines.
Put simply, the older you are, the more likely you are to succumb to the virus, which first appeared in China’s Wuhan province in December last year.
While mortality in people under 40 stands at 0.2 percent based on available data, for people over 60 the death rate rises to 3.4 percent, rising to eight percent in those over 70. In addition to the elderly, younger people - with often undiagnosed- immune system disorders are also at high risk of death.
Lockdown measures introduced across many countries are aimed at protecting these vulnerable groups from mass death.
If we take the US as an example, the number of people over 60 stands at just over 72 million. A Covid-19 infection rate of 50 percent of that population, would mean at least 36 million infections, and even if we were to assume a low average mortality rate of four percent, the eventual death toll would be more than 1.4 million.
The numbers are big, and as some politicians are beginning to realise that the cost to the economy because of a lockdown to protect this population is also very large.
Those numbers have not gone unnoticed, especially among fiscally conservative politicians in the West and politicians in developing countries who do not have the economic flexibility to implement massive rescue measures.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, for example, has ruled out a lockdown, arguing that such a measure would ‘shatter’ the livelihoods of the country’s poorest citizens.
In the US there was outrage directed at Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick when he argued he would rather die than see the US economy hit as a result of lockdowns.
“My message: let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living, let’s be smart about it, and those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves,” Patrick told Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Carlson in turn asked: “You’re basically saying that this disease could take your life but that’s not the scariest thing to you?”
To which Patrick responded: “Yes”.
While others have not been as explicit, many Republicans have made it clear that resuming normality despite the risks is vital.
Trump himself has stated that he wants things to resume as normal by mid-April, in time for the Easter holidays.
“I’d love to have it open by Easter, OK? I would love to have it open by Easter. I will tell you that right now,” Trump.
But the backlash to that comment, and Patrick’s earlier comments to Fox News has been hard and relentless.
‘That’s not who we are’
Economist Nouriel Roubini slammed Trump’s call, warning that trying to restart the economy amid an ongoing contagion would have devastating long term economic implications.
“This idea we’re going to restart everything soon enough in a week or so is totally nuts,” he told Yahoo Finance.
“It’s the worst thing you can do, it’s going to be a nightmare and it’s going to imply that [the U.S.] ends up into a depression.”
Others including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo spelt out the ethical implications of allowing others to die just to let the economy thrive.
“We are not willing to sacrifice 1-2% of New Yorkers. That’s not who we are. We will fight to save every life we can. I am not giving up,” He wrote on Twitter.
In a New York Times editorial, University of California professor of Medicine, Louise Aronson, also questioned the underlying idea of considering the deaths of older people more acceptable.
“No one wants young people to die. So why are we OK with old people dying?” She asked, further condemning the thought process that says “they’re on their way out anyway”.
“We can choose to either diminish our elders or support them. When we care for them, we not only are affecting the lives of people now but also are shaping our own futures,” she wrote.
The global Coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 19,000 people at the time of publication, with more than 423,000 cases confirmed worldwide.