How many WELLBYs is the corona panic costing?

How much unhappiness is created by the unemployment of millions of people in Western countries (mainly N-Am +Europe) caused by the corona panic? How much unhappiness has been created due to the vast expansion of loneliness and physical inactivity? And in terms of the tradeoff between the quality of life and the length of life, how many “equivalent lives” are the isolation policies costing us via our reduced quality of life?

In an earlier post I calculated the loss of life due to the economic recession caused by the hysteria to be at least 10 million whole lives in the whole world, probably closer to 50 million. This was essentially calculated from taking the discounted economic loss to be at least 50 trillion and combining it with the rule of thumb that the value of a statistical life in the world is around 1-4 million each, a bit higher in the richer countries and much lower in the poorest countries. 10-50 million lives lost was thus the expected loss of life in the decades to come due to less government services, poorer nutrition, and increased social tensions of the type we are seeing in India.

Now I want to consider the importance of the quality of life, focussing just on the billion or so living in the West, using a wellbeing criterion: the likely effect of the social isolation and the economic collapse on the levels of life satisfaction of the population. The basic unit of analysis is the WELLBY, which is one point change in life satisfaction for one person for one year when measured on a 0-10 scale. As a rule of thumb, the average year of life in richer countries is worth about 6 WELLBYs, less in poorer countries where average wellbeing levels are lower. Then a whole life of 80 years, which is the average life expectancy in the West, is worth about 480 WELLBYs.

I will look only at the two items that I think are the most important components of the WELLBY loss involved in the panic and the social isolation policies: unemployment and the mental health costs of isolation.

We cannot accurately know the full WELLBY costs from unemployment and loneliness caused by the corona panic, but we can make an educated guess using the estimates around on the economic collapse, the social collapse, and what we know from the wellbeing literature. Over the fold, I detail why I think another month of mass isolation will cost the West at least the equivalent of a million deaths in terms of reduced quality of life.

First the unemployment levels. What we know from past recessions is that unemployment goes up very quickly and then goes down much more slowly. An important consequence of this is that a large recession is far worse than a few small ones spread out over time as you then have a much larger glut of individuals being unemployed for much longer. So for instance, the US in 2019 still had not recovered all the jobs lost in the 2007/2008 Global Financial Crisis. Basically, the cost of a recession is close to quadratic in its severity, not linear, so it rather matters how severe it is.

This one is looking to be a very large recession. In the US already over 6 million people filed for unemployment in the last few weeks, and in the UK in March the Department for Work and Pensions reported nearly a million more welfare claimants in just 2 weeks in March 2020. That is over 3% of the entire workforce. The joblessness is thereby rising many times faster than in the GFC when similar surges took months. This has lead many labour economists trying to estimate how bad it is going to get, with some estimates that we’re in for 20% unemployment levels within a year. That spike is more than twice as high as the GFC and even above the level of the Great Depression.

Labour economists (which I used to be) do not expect those people to find jobs within a few weeks if the isolation restrictions are lifted: whole industries are collapsing and hundreds of thousands of companies are close to bankruptcy. That kind of thing does not magically “sort itself out quickly”, or at least it hasn’t in the past. It takes years, not weeks.

So let us take the worst-case scenario first: 20% unemployment of the labour force in Western countries, taking a decade to get re-absorbed into the economy. That is about 80 million additional unemployed in the first year, and 400 million excess unemployment years till the excess unemployed are finally re-absorbed in the economy.

From a large literature on the effects of unemployment on wellbeing, we know the effect of unemployment to the unemployed is at least 0.7 WELLBY per year. On top of that, there is a likely multiplier effect in terms of the increased desperation and anxiety among the family and friends of the unemployed, as well as the increased anxiety among the employed. At the high end, this multiplier is believed to be about 3. So at the high-end estimate, every year of unemployment costs society 2.1 WELLBYs. So that’s a loss of 820 million WELLBYs due to the recession. This is equivalent to 2 million whole lives lost. In terms of deaths of individuals with, say, 5 good years of life left, which is generous if you look at the victims of the corona virus, these 820 million WELLBYs are equivalent to about 30 million deaths.

That is the high-end estimate. The low-end estimate is that this recession will have a spike in unemployment of no more than 5% above the previous level and that this recession will be over unusually quickly, say within 5 years. Then the excess number of unemployment years is only 70 million. If we then dismiss the notion of a social multiplier on the misery of the unemployed, this would amount to only about 50 million lost WELLBYs, equivalent to about 100,000 whole lives or 1.7 million deaths of people with 5 more good years left.

Then loneliness. The mass incarceration of the population we are now seeing in the West is putting abused people together with their tormentors, “for their safety”. It is also in many other ways doing exactly the opposite of what health services and government agencies have been advocating the last couple of years, which is to have lots of close physical contact, being in nature, socialising, exercising.

At worst we are killing good health habits of exercise and socialising for a whole generation, something which would kill many tens of millions outright in the decades to come if any of the previous pronouncements by health authorities on the importance of good behaviour are to be believed.

However, let’s not take the worst case scenario on the effects of social isolation on lifetime health behaviours, because that would lead one to the immediate conclusion that the current policies on isolation are monstrously misguided and damaging, causing health emergencies that dwarf the worst projections on what the corona virus could do. It would make a total mockery of the health advisers who say staying inside is the only safe to do. Let’s be a little less dramatic.

Consider the somewhat simpler case that the effects of social isolation will wear off over time as people get rid of the traumas, the extra weight, and gradually re-socialise. As a rule of thumb, we know that medium level depressions cost at least a WELLBY per year, and basically halve in severity in each subsequent year, so let’s say that a year of social isolation costs twice the amount of WELLBYs lost in that year due to the isolation.

How much is the isolation hurting individuals via loneliness, anxiety, etc.? This is hard to know as many surveys on this very issue are only in the field right now. Also, in the short run (a few weeks), the national cohesion felt as countries seem to face a common threat might have some benefits, an effect that can’t last when the reality of the losses and the loneliness starts to become clear.

A report on over 2,000 British teenagers surveyed between March 20-25 showed huge increases in mental health problems, particularly anxiety, easily worth half a point in life satisfaction. Still, teenagers are not the whole population and anxiety cannot be expected to last that long.

We do know that warm social relations are the single most important thing for wellbeing, even more important than money or physical health. So someone emotionally and socially lonely without any close friends and family will be at least one WELLBY below the average in the population.

My current guess is that then the whole population is at least a quarter of a unit of life satisfaction lower than before because of the social isolation and the stresses associated with it. This is less than half what the effect at a glance looks like for the interviewed teenagers, so I am being somewhat conservative, and of course I hope I am being too pessimistic.

Scaled up to the population of over 1 billion people living in the West, this means a loss of 250 million WELLBY for every 6 months of social isolation, because the presumed half-life of the mental health problems is a year. If we take this as a linear thing (which basically means we take the number of people whose mental health is severely negatively affected as the thing that increases linearly), then per month of isolation, that’s about 40 million WELLBY.

By that kind of calculation, social isolation in the West is costing about 70,000 whole lives per month, or the equivalent of a little over 1 million deaths of individuals with 5 more good years on average left.

If we then look at how long the social isolation would need to be kept up to “flatten the curve” long enough not to overwhelm the health system, the estimates vary from months to years (several Dutch modellers now think it would take years, as do some of the Americans and the Australians). A year of mass social isolation would then be equivalent to about a million whole lives lost and 12 million deaths of those with 5 more good years left.

All this only counts the West and we’re not even talking about other big costs, such as all the health problems that are now not addressed because of the focus on the corona virus, as well as the costs of the health problems being created by social isolation.

So however I look at it, it seems clear that the unemployment and emotional costs of mass social isolation far outweigh the threat of the virus and the immediate lifting of nearly all involuntary isolations is warranted. It is not “safe” to keep the isolations in place.

Even the worst-case scenarios of how many more people would get ill and would overwhelm the health system are dwarfed by the damage we are doing every minute we keep up this mass social isolation. Our lives have more meaning than merely being there to prevent hospitals from overflowing.

To sum up on isolation: data will come soon to give clarity on the WELLBY cost of social isolation, but my current best guess is that we’re talking the equivalent of at least 1 million deaths per month, which basically comes from saying that 6 months of social isolation will lead to something like 10% higher depression/anxiety rates.

The WELLBY costs via unemployment are harder to link to ongoing isolation, but it is probably fair to say that every month of mass isolation will cost at least 1% more unemployment than the current damage if we lifted all restrictions (this is far less than the current spike in new welfare cases suggest, which seems to suggest 2-5% is more realistic, particularly for the next month). On the margin, and taking the best-case scenario as to the current damage already done (5% more unemployment), this means the next additional month will cost about 25,000 whole lives or 400,000 deaths of people with 5 more good years. The month after that will cost over 30,000 whole lives and over 500,000 deaths (the costs go up higher than linear). If we start from a middle-base (10% higher unemployment already), then we are well over the equivalent of 1 million deaths for the next month of mass isolations for the West as a whole.

So basically I estimate another month of mass isolation to cost the West about 1.5-3 million deaths just in terms of reduced quality of life alone. It will cost the world as a whole far more.

Do provide a counter-estimate in the comments, preferably by trying to tackle the other costs of social isolation that I left out.

Finally, the burden of proof should be on those who want to keep inflicting the massive damage of isolation, rather than on those wanting our freedoms, our lives, our mental health, and our ability to take care of our physical health and our loved ones restored.

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38 Responses to How many WELLBYs is the corona panic costing?

  1. Luke Godwin says:

    This is not an area with which I am familiar. However, the primary conclusions seem to accord with that views of quite a few people who have something useful to say on this matter: the costs deriving from the silly restrictions imposed by pollies and their enablers outweigh the cost of the disease. A far more nuanced and less heavy-handed response was required – but we seem to have lost any chance of this. We and at least one generation will now bear the costs of what has been unnecessarily inflicted on us.

    • paul frijters says:

      There is a nice Russian story a friend told me that is apt here.

      A mother asked her daughter when she walked in with a smashed nose what had happened. “I was rowing with dad in the lake and there was a wasp on my nose”, the daughter said. “Why didnt you just wave it away?”, the mother asked. “Because dad hit it with an oar”.

  2. Paul
    Feel one thing is definite, whenever the next pandemic the next Covid ‘x’ pops up ‘, which will happen eventually ,there is simply no way that we ( or the developed world in general) could afford to repeat what we have done this time.

  3. desipis says:

    Paul, how do you address the evidence that shows recessions can increase life expectancy? Or the counter to loneliness argument, that families will now be spending more time together creating stronger bonds that will provide life long benefits? You have a strong selection bias of only looking for factors that prove your argument.

    • Re the 2009 recession ,Lifestyle related diseases typically are the result of decades of ‘over eating’ seems a bit of a stretch to attribute changes in say 2011 to changes in behaviour that only started in late 2009.
      Re the Great Depression in the US have those results been replicated elsewhere?

    • paul frijters says:

      Kien Choong asked a similar question in my previous “10 million” post, so you can look at my reply to that one there.

      However, in brief, the whole point of the “Deaths of Despair” book by Angus Deaton (who got a Nobel prize for it) was that the jobs lost in the 2007/2008 US recession had still not been regained and this lead to a lot of unhealthy behaviours among the men who never regained their social positions (including the opioid crisis). US life expectancy actually went down the last 5 years and before that was stagnating, whilst everywhere else it has gone up.

      The other point to make on life expectancy is that its increase is linked to slow processes: inoculations, health systems, general food security and wealth, energy systems, urban amenities. Those things are causally linked to economic progress, but the benefit are slow moving. So the kind of statistical analysis you link to, which looks at very quick effects of changes, is not suited for that. That’s why one needs to take the longer view or to look more precisely at the effect of particular programs. Both of those show very strong effects.

      Btw, are you now sorry for your outrageous ad hominem remarks on my last post?

      • Kien Choong says:

        I’m not sure if there is a misunderstanding, but my own prior belief is that recessions (and poverty in general) have adverse health impacts. I doubt I would have questioned the claim; but perhaps I have misunderstood.

        • paul frijters says:

          you are quite right. Of course poverty is bad for health.

          Your question on the previous post (“The corona Dilemma) was about what is known about recessions and health. We even talked about the Ruhm papers that are sometimes held up as evidence that recessions are good for health.

      • desipis says:

        Which ad hominem was that?

    • Kien Choong says:

      Interesting to read the 2012 article titled “The Last Recession was Good for Life Expectancy”. If I read the article correctly, it applies to the Baltic nations (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania), which apparently experienced improved life expectancy notwithstanding austerity.

      On the other hand, a 2016 article (which looks at Mediterranean countries) concludes that “our data do not support the notion that increased life expectancy is associated with unemployment during the Great Recession”.

      Perhaps the rise in life expectancy in the Baltics reflects a long-term trend of rising life expectancy in spite of the Great Recession??

      But maybe the lesson here is that there are policies governments can put in place to mitigate the adverse health effects of recessions.

      • paul frijters says:

        a lot of that literature is very silly because it ignores the longer-term causalities and looks at immediate changes during small economic wobbles. The 1990 economic collapse was terrible for health in the whole former Soviet Union.

  4. Christopher Hood says:

    So your estimate, in WELLBYs or otherwise, of the consequences of an unrestrained COVID-19 pandemic are…?
    Without that estimate, your estimation of the consequences of current restrictions is not comparing apples and oranges. It is not comparing at all.
    Of course, an estimate of the consequences of letting go of restrictions is hard to make. But not making the estimate is just treating the opportunity cost of an action you dislike as its entire cost, rather than just the lesser gain from that action compared with the action you think best.
    ‘Can the tram’. ‘Stop the lockdown’.
    Oh, and you might try answering the objections people make, rather than describing them as ad hominem. You’ve already done that above.

    • paul frijters says:

      Hi Christopher,

      in the text above I talk about the likely marginal cost of each additional month of social isolation. That has the clear counterfactual of an end to the social isolations and the disruption to business.

      On the wider point of overall losses, that was partially addressed in one of my previous posts:

      There I the alternative scenario to be that we had treated corona like just another flu. Then the expected death toll of 0.2% is the main loss (which is only a bit above the death toll of the 2017/2018 flu in some countries). That means the counterfactual is not having the panic at all, as well as no social isolation.

      However, the most crucial point on proof is the one I make at the end: we are in a massive social experiment costing humanity millions of lives. It is up to those who want to continue this unique mass experiment for another minute to prove their case, rather than anybody else’s duty to prove that we should stop this damage. It is not acceptable to see this damaging experiment as “safe” and “the new normal”.

      Let me also predict to you it can’t last, as John and Luke (where’s Matthew?) also talk about above. In their fear the population is not paying attention to what they are destroying, but the realisation will come and then the questions will come why this damage was allowed to happen.

      • Christopher Hood says:

        So the costs of an unrestrained COVID-19 are only the costs of an influenza outbreak. Its death rate is only 0.2% and only a bit higher than typical influenza. The outbreak has no long term effects and so the costs you model from distancing and isolation measures are pretty much net costs.
        But COVID-19 does not have a death rate of only 0.2%. Current statistics are showing death rates as high as 10%, of course overstated because of low testing rates and large numbers of cases going unidentified.
        The death rate is not the measure of the impact of COVID-19 compared to an influenza outbreak of comparable death rate. Influenzas reiterate in varied versions, in a population with significant levels of (partial) immunity, and with substantial limitation from the widespread use of influenza vaccines. There is no COVID-19 vaccine and no existing population immunity at all. And COVID-19 is very highly infectious, spreads easily, and spreads before (and often without) symptoms in the carrier. In no respect is it like influenza in its spread impact even if its death rate were similar.
        Nor can it be treated, economically, as if it replaced influenza in this period. Influenza will occur too, independently: so the full cost of COVID-19 has to be estimated, even if it were similar in economic effect to an influenza outbreak.
        Rhetorically, demanding others prove the benefit of distancing and isolation measures is understandable.
        But COVID-19, unrestrained, would certainly spread faster and many times more widely than seasonal influenza. It would certainly overwhelm medical resources in many, and probably all, countries. (Italy has one of the best public health systems in the world on all measures, and was overwhelmed.) It would certainly knock out many workers from many businesses – and statistically that must mean many cases where all key staff are affected at much the same time, as well as cases where hardly any staff are down. In the event of a ‘pulse’ overwhelming resources, the death rate would be very much higher; and deaths from other causes would rise substantially too. That has economic consequences, both from costs to production and from costs to demand.
        Modelling an unrestrained COVID-19 spread and its economic effects is uncertain. It is also something requiring rather more than a hand wave and an entirely unfounded claim that COVID-19 has a death rate of only 0.2%.
        If the costs of distancing and isolation are clear, and the costs of unrestrained outbreak of COVID-19 are not, let’s see the workings and the assumptions for the range of COVID-19 costs. I suspect that many plausible estimates of economic effects from unrestrained COVID-19 outbreak are higher than your upper bound and uncertain estimates of the costs of distancing and isolation measures. Taking account of economic costs of both possible strategies, and measuring those costs in the same way, would allow an estimate of which strategy is better economically and by how much.
        Then we might come to consider some non-economic arguments. We won’t get there if all we have is estimation of the cost of distancing and isolation, and no similarly comprehensive and similarly modelled estimate of the cost of unrestrained COVID-19 outbreak.

        • Christopher
          In the absence of a vaccine or a useful drug the virus will like the recent fires, in the absence of heavy rains , will burn until it runs out of fuel.

          In Italy I gather the median age of death is about 80 I.e they already had the ultimate prexisting condition …

          It seems certain that we will run out of money well before the year or longer that’s needed for the ‘precautions ‘ to really work.

          Worth the twenty minutes

          • Christopher Hood says:

            If you gather the median age of death in Italy is 80 perhaps you would let us in on your statistical source.
            To 3 Mar 2020, the partial statistics in the analysis by the Insituto Superiore di Sanitá showed less than 40% in the age groups from 80 up. The median age was probably somewhere above 70. And those statistics, which were partial, have been superseded by the best part of a week of data, with the deaths in younger ages increasing their share steadily (though only a little). It seems younger people take longer to die when seriously affected.

            • Christopher
              Sorry information overload ,can’t remember which Italian report. No question that it’s a serious disease.

              As you would know ,There are serious problems with the data anyway ,for one example :

              My point is that modelling : what if we wreck the economy but, fail to really make much difference to the , longterm outcome viz health? should also be done.

              • Christopher Hood says:

                This is not at all Paul Fritjers’s argument.
                This argument is the proposition that all distancing and isolation merely spreads out damage from COVID-19 that is the same in total, and therefore the distancing and isolation are pointless.
                This could only be true if there were no risk of overloading our health and other systems by an uncontrolled outbreak. Evidence from many places shows that the risk of overloading is substantial and the consequences severe. So avoiding overloading substantially reduces cumulative cost of COVID-19.
                There is a real prospect of cutting the spread below its sustaining rate (that is, of one new infection from each case), and if this occurs distancing and isolation produce really substantial reductions in the cumulative cost of COVID-19. New Zealand begins to look like evidence of distancing and isolation closing the infection off, though we don’t know yet for sure.
                Whether propounding the Fritjers thesis (economic cost of action is greater than economic cost of inaction), or your suggestion (economic cost of action is entirely wasted as consequences of COVID-19 will be the same), depends on careful comparison with the alternative using the same sort of economic and other modelling and clear statement of the basis for treating the alternative as one does.
                Paul Fritjers neglects the cost of uncontrolled COVID-19 on the basis that it is negligible. His reasons seem unsound because of (at least) the factors I noted above.
                You neglect the cost of uncontrolled COVID-19 on the basis that all distancing and isolation only defers the impact and that overwhelming of resources is not an issue. This seems unsound to most epidemiologists for (at least) the reasons to which I have referred.
                Any argument against action, based on economic cost of action, has to deal openly and persuasively with the cost of inaction.

        • paul frijters says:


          I talk about a lot of these health issues in a previous post.

          I indeed am saying it would have been optimal to treat this as just another flu, dealing with the overflowing hospitals as best we could without panicking (many hospitals overflowed in the 2017/2018 flu season too….). Far too late now, clearly, but that is what we should have done.

          As to the rest, you are ascribing all kinds of assumptions on me that are unwarranted, and you are making wild statements about this disease that are also unwarranted (10%? No-one expects that for the whole population). So you are not arguing in good faith, trying to see the point that is being made.

          Is that fear or hope talking?

          • Christopher Hood says:

            I appreciate that you think accusation of bad faith a substitute for addressing the facts.
            You said the death rate was 0.2%. We don’t know what it is, but a rate of 0.2% is impossibly low even on the current deaths in the more severely affected countries. I pointed out that actual rates currently exceed 10% for some countries, but of course are overstated because of inadequate identification of cases. But that wasn’t my main point.
            My main point was to call for comparable assessment of the costs of uncontrolled COVID-19. You have not addressed the point I made, nor have you dealt with any of my objections to treating the cost of uncontrolled COVID-19 as negligible.
            I would like to know how you address and compare the costs of uncontrolled COVID-19, and whether you have any response to the factors that make that cost certainly not neglible.
            I would like to know how you justify relying on a death rate of only 0.2%, and how you justify disregarding the other costs of an uncontrolled outbreak – costs like those you seek to measure for the distancing and isolation measures.

  5. Kien Choong says:

    I also like something Joan Robinson said about the nature of economics in her 1962 book, Economic Philosophy:

    “Anyone who says to you: ‘Believe me, I have no prejudices,’ is either succeeding in deceiving himself or trying to deceive you. … [I]n the social sciences, first, the subject‑matter has much greater political and ideological content, so that other loyalties are also involved; and secondly, because the appeal to ‘public experience’ can never be decisive, as it is for the laboratory scientists who can repeat each other’s experiments under controlled conditions, the social scientists are always left with a loophole to escape through ‑ ‘the consequences that have followed from the causes that I analysed are, I agree, the opposite of what I predicted, but they would have been still greater if those causes had not operated.”

    “This need to rely on judgement has another consequence. It has sometimes been remarked that economists are more queazy and ill‑natured than other scientists. The reason is that, when a writer’s personal judgement is involved in an argument,
    disagreement is insulting.”

    “The lack of an agreed and accepted method for eliminating errors introduces a personal element into economic controversies which is another hazard on top of all the rest. … lacking the experimental method, economists are not strictly enough compelled to reduce metaphysical concepts to falsifiable terms and cannot compel each other to agree as to what has been falsified. So economics limps along with one foot in untested
    hypotheses and the other in untestable slogans.”

    (I came across Joan Robinson’s quote in the Conversable Economist blog.)

    I think the quality of our discussions could be improved if we accept that good reasoning rarely gives us a single correct answer to issues that matter (without denying that we can objectively identify bad reasoning).

  6. If Great Depressions really cause increases in life expectancy then reverse should be the case with long periods of increasing GDP.

    If we ‘needed’ to repeat this ‘cure’ in twelve months time we simply could not afford it.

    We will soon be in a condition similar to that of Britain in 1946, we’ve sold every bit of the family silver , melted every aluminium cook pot down for spitfires… there’s no way we could do it all over again , next year.

  7. Christopher, the Italian figures were in an earlier post by Paul Fritjers.
    Quote: “The Italian statistics just released are probably the most comprehensive to date. As a new report of March 17th ( showed, some 99% of the younger cases of coronavirus deaths were among people with pre-existing serious conditions. Furthermore, the average age of those who died was about 80.”
    And I believe that there is a real possibility that neither suppression or mitigation will work in the long run.

  8. Christopher
    “ You neglect the cost of uncontrolled COVID-19 on the basis that ALL distancing and isolation only defers the impact and that overwhelming of resources is not an issue.”
    That’s straw-man stuff.
    Personally I’m 63 my wife and I are ‘isolating ‘ as should ,anybody over about 60 as well as those who are younger and have other prexisting conditions .
    And preventing overloading the hospital’s at the cost of not having enough in future revenues to run them , is a real issue.

    The chances of getting down to zero new cases, for four whole weeks , good luck.

  9. Christopher Hood says:

    John R Walker points to a link to Italian statistics from 17 March. That link did not offer the ‘over 80’ median age at death. Nor are those statistics remotely current.
    The serious conditions among the dead included some degree of heart disease (about a third), diabetes (about a third), and about three quarters had raised blood pressure. These are serious but, properly treated, not likely to cause these death rates or anything like them.
    John R Walker calls it ‘straw-man stuff’ to describe his views. He said that COVID-19 ‘will burn until it runs out of fuel’. He said the question to model is ‘what if we wreck the economy but, fail to really make much difference to the , longterm outcome viz health?’
    I summarised this position as seeking to neglect the cost of uncontrolled COVID-19 on the basis that distancing and isolation only defers the impact and that overwhelming of (medical) resources is not an issue.
    I would like to know how I have mischaracterised his position. If that position is a straw man, it isn’t of my making.

    • paul frijters says:

      Maybe your Italian is better than mine, but the phrase on page 2 of that report “(età mediane: pazienti deceduti 80.5 anni – pazienti con infezione 63 anni).” surely means “at the median: deceased 80.5 year – patients with infections 63 years”. It has also been widely reported in the international media as such, but I actually made the effort of reading the report in Italian before writing my piece.

      Sure, subsequently more of the young have died and they indeed take longer to die, but the picture of who has died hasn’t changed much at all, nor is it different in other countries. They nearly all have co-morbidities and the average age is still very high. The numbers on exact age keep changing, but if you look at the distribution by all age of all deaths reported it is still well above 70:

      Your 10% was definitely a straw man Christopher. Even my 0.2% is in hindsight too pessimistic.

      However, the bigger point is that one should not fall into the trap of obsessing about every new bit of statistics on the threat. That is the trap of fear: looking incessantly at characteristics of what is feared, fuelling the fear. One should look more broadly and see what else matters in life. Just a few glances of the magnitude of the damage we are doing to ourselves via these lock downs and panic slaps you out of this obsession with a small threat.

  10. Kien Choong says:

    Hi, in case you don’t already know.

    Joshua Gans is publishing a book Economics in the Age of Covid-19.

    He’s inviting comments …

    • David Walker says:

      Josh is the man to do it. I once watched him write an entire AFR op-ed piece in 25 minutes while waiting to start a press conference on an entirely different subject.

      We already have the the excellent volume edited by Richard Baldwin and Beatrice Weder di Mauro, called “Economics in the Time of COVID-19”.

      But knowing the man and having read the preface, I’m looking forward to Josh’s volume.

  11. From the UK
    Lives vs lives: the dilemma of ending the lockdown
    Fraser Nelson
    What’s the cost of the lockdown? Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, has always argued that Covid-19 will take lives in two ways: directly and indirectly. Directly: 7,978 so far, with up to 20,000 expected in total. But indirectly? In my Daily Telegraph column today, I report that initial models drawn up inside government suggest a figure of 150,000 ‘avoidable’ deaths caused by the lockdown, far greater than the revised toll expected from Covid-19. The cause of deaths will be a mixture: downgrading NHS services (less cancer care, mental health treatment cut) and people avoiding the NHS (visits to A&E were down by a third last month). Whitty is also concerned about parents not vaccinating kids, which could threaten herd immunity for other diseases. The 150,000 figure is produced by a model, and like all models, its findings are the creation of its inputs. But there has never been any modelling about the side effects of lockdown: the effects on domestic abuse, deprivation of education – and, perhaps biggest of all, the effects on our ability to fund healthcare if the economy is permanently poorer. ‘This is a balancing act,’ one cabinet member told me, ‘but we need a clearer view of what’s on the other side of the ledger.’

    • paul frijters says:

      I know, there are many signs the health profession at the top is starting to realise it has made a horrible mistake and choked at the “moment supreme”. As the hordes still follow their pronouncements that got us into this mess, there are starting to cover their *rses and make more reasonable noises. They can never take back their lack of courage and broad thinking when it truly mattered though. Now it is almost irrelevant what they say.

      • If the UKs direct Covid19 death toll comes out at 20000 and the death toll from ‘side effects’ of the treatment comes out at 100,000 then the total death toll is similar to the death toll calculated for the UKs initial policy re Covid19 I.e isolate the vulnerable etc and tru to keep as many as possible of the young in work etc.

        There are some similarities to wild fire management in SE Australia , in practice it’s not proved possible to exclude-suppress all random ignitions : lightning etc. Nor is it in practice possible to hazard reduce I.e control burn anything like the amount of country needed ,every year for that to work either ( due to practical , economic and sociopolitical reasons combined).
        So the strategy that has evolved is ,do what you can re prevention and mitigation and prepare your own place , but when the “fire flume” gets going, it’s evacuate the ill prepared or simply un defendable properties , defend the defendable , build containment lines and obsessively watch the wind direction-strength forecasts .

        And wait for it to either burn itself out or pray for rain.

        In contrast the US over the years has spent a fortune on water bombers and lost a awful lot of firefighters on a strategy of very active suppression, despite all the huge cost it has not worked ,wild fire still regularly gets out and kills heaps of civilians etc.

      • For what it’s worth as reported in the AFR, the current Australian death toll is about 56 and all but 7 of those were under 70 and only one was under 60.

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  13. Conrad says:

    I agree in part with Christopher on this, although I don’t really care whether it happens to be similar to influenza or not for this argument. It’s what people perceive it to be and how they act — which, unlike you I think will be very hard to change to “everyone act as normal”.

    On this note, I don’t see Sweden doing great, and it appears that there are now calls to do more there (although I can’t really tell — we shall see). Brazil has had on-again/off-again lockdowns that are state specific (mainly off-again as far as I can tell), and their unemployment rate is up too. So the real comparison will be whether countries that can suppress covid end up doing better than countries that don’t in the longer term. In this respect, if people are happier to go about their normal lives under the impression they are safe, then that may be better than than your alternative even if you are correct on the dangers of covid.

    That might differ in Euroland vs. the States, the latter of which it appears more people have a stomach for testing covid — although even in the states the unemployment rate is through the roof in states which didn’t have harsh lock-down laws. As a prediction, you could compare places with harsh lockdowns that were able to suppress numbers to ones where it is going through the roof (e.g., Florida). My prediction is that unemployment in NY will go lower than e.g., Florida even though they had a far worse time. Presumably your prediction will be that there will be a huge burst in Florida, everyone will become immune and then not care, which will lead to lower unemployment.

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