Calculating the benefits of lockdowns

Source: The Hindu

Relevance – Lockdowns due to Covid pandemic incurred a huge cost on the economy. This article highlights the same.

Synopsis: The article questions the practicability or even desirability of protecting lives with the aid of lockdowns.

  • Data show that as of now 26.2% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Of them, only 1% live in low-income countries. By contrast, the richer nations, such as the U.S., Canada, Germany and Britain, registered above 50% vaccination by July 17.
  • For India, the percentage of the adult population that has received at least one dose stands at 34.1% as of July 18.
  • How long it will take to eliminate the inequality in the administration of vaccines is not known.
  • Till that happens, long or short lockdowns from time to time will remain the only defence against the virus.
  • Several researchers have studied the effectiveness of the lockdowns in economic terms. It is important, therefore, to take note of the issues that have significance in this context.
The cost of a lockdown
  • The trade-off between lives and livelihoods: Lockdowns help you to keep on living, but they prevent you from earning a living. With incomes drying up, essential expenditures such as those on food, health and education cannot be sustained. Extreme lockdown policies imply that you cannot live a meaningful life.
  • Loss of GDP: Some researchers believe that the cost of a lockdown can be measured by the value of lost GDP. The Economist quotes the case of two European countries (France and Italy). Both imposed heavy lockdowns and suffered 3% shrinkage in GDP.
  • The cost of saving COVID-19-infected lives: Research has established that for every infected person cured in poorer countries, 1.76 children die on account of a fall in the quality of life.
  • Miseries faced by the vulnerable population: There are other costs too that should not be overlooked. For example, Reverse migration of migrant labourers in India. Children are held back from school leading to emergence of child labour.
  • Not a permanent solution to control disease: Lockdowns (severe or mild) prevent the spread of the disease so long as they last. But resurfaces once the lockdown is lifted. A U.S researcher has concluded that there is no lifesaving impact of lockdowns at all.
How to calculate the value of a human life?

There are many different ways in which the value of a human life may be calculated.

  • A direct method is to study the life insurance premiums people are willing to pay to ensure proper treatment if afflicted by fatal diseases.
  • In rich societies, large amounts will be paid. This can be used to compute the social benefits of lockdowns, which will probably have higher values in rich societies than in poor societies where few are covered by life insurance.
 Way forward

Though lockdowns are unavoidable for now, but they need to be carefully designed, guided by trade-offs between harsh and mild policies. Or else, the damaged economies of the world will not revive too soon.


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