1. The Storm: We fail to lock things down, and the virus rips through the world and overwhelms the health care system. Lots of people die in a few horrible months. Within 6 months, 40–70% of humans have contracted the virus, most people are immune (“forced herd immunity), and the economy slowly starts to recover — but it takes much longer given the destruction society must recover from, and people’s deeper fears about going back out. This is a U-shaped recovery.
  2. The Worst of Both Worlds: We implement half-hearted, loosely enforced lockdowns (one immunologist describes this as a “Swiss cheese” lockdown), so some people stay home while others flout the rules. The virus still spreads — more slowly than in the Storm, but not slowly enough to spare the health care system — but for a longer period of time. Hundreds of thousands lose their lives like in the Storm, but the damage to the economy drags on until we find a vaccine. This recovery has almost no shape, as the economy may not recover for many years.
  1. A lockdown cannot last forever — eventually people need to eat. If governments miss the window of opportunity to drop the hammer, they’ll have only bad options for reopening their economies: the Storm, or the Worst of Both Worlds. This is especially true in developing countries where most people live hand to mouth, and governments don’t have the finances to sustain people’s incomes for more than a month or two.
  2. Ultimately it’s not a tradeoff between health and wealth: you need balance. If we open the economy too soon, the economy won’t recover: the virus will resurge and people will be too scared to get back to normal life. If on the other hand the economy suffers for too long, we’ll ultimately be left with less money to fund advanced health care, and replace deaths from Coronavirus with deaths of despair.

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Andrew Kent

Andrew Kent

Born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, working on solar energy and rural electrification in Africa, BA in Social Studies from Harvard