Does lockdown damage the economy? 

If British lockdown is a song, the chorus is a sour political sound that comes from throwback Members of Parliament calling for lockdown’s end. Let’s look at lockdown and the impact it has on an economy, since that’s one of the primary arguments against it. 

 

The costs of lockdown

Those wild-eyed radicals at the International Monetary Fund looked at the changes in travel, electricity use, and unemployment claims and say the economy deteriorated before government restrictions came into force and also began to recover before they were lifted. Voluntary social distancing and lockdowns, they say, had almost exactly the same impact. In other words, the problem is the pandemic, not the lockdowns.

A different study compared Demark and Sweden and reports almost the same drop in consumer spending during the first wave of the pandemic, although Denmark locked down and Sweden didn’t. Again, they’re saying the economic damage came from the pandemic, not the lockdown.

We could go on, getting into quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), which are a particularly grisly measurement the National Health Service uses (and for all I know, so do health insurance companies or other countries’ health services) to decide if a medicine or treatment is a good buy–or at least an affordable one. It weighs additional length of life against quality of life against money. Because money’s the ultimate measure of everything in our economy, folks. Even our lives.

Irrelevant photo: Crocuses coming up in spite of our recent cold snap.

But I’ll leave you at the door of QALYs while I go home and have a nice cup of tea all by myself. Or with you if you show up and the pandemic’s over. The calculations involved are enough to scare me off. What I can tell you is that the article I’m linking to claims that the lockdown opponents are using QALYs wrong when they cite them to prove their point. 

I’d probably use them wrong too, and prove no point at all. Hence the tea. 

*

Speaking of money and Covid, landlords in England can’t evict tenants who fall behind in their rent because of the pandemic, but that only holds till the end of March. After that, anything could happen. The ban could be extended. The ban could be allowed to lapse. Spaceships could land and magically implant some good sense into all of us.

I like the third possibility myself, but I admit it’s not the most likely.

Some 450,000 families are behind on their rent because of the pandemic. If you want your hair to turn as gray as mine, you can add in the number of families who’ve fallen behind on their mortgage payments. They can’t be evicted yet either, but they’re facing the same three possibilities. 

*

Reopening the schools or keeping them closed is an alternative chorus of the lockdown song.

A study looking at Sweden, with it no-lockdown approach to the pandemic, reports that keeping the schools open with only minimal precautions meant the teachers faced a doubled risk of catching Covid. And their partner had a 29% higher risk. 

The point of comparison was teachers who shifted to teaching online.

The kids’ parents had a 17% higher risk. Not enough kids were tested for them to register in the study.

 

Variant news

Scientists have found some new Covid variants. One popped up in southern California. It was found in October and it’s spread around the country and into other countries, including Australia and New Zealand, where we can assume it’s been stomped out thoroughly.

It’s not clear yet if it behaves any differently from the same-old, same-old variants, but it carries a change on the spike protein, which may or may not turn out to be important. 

The spike protein? It’s the key that lets the virus into human cells. The fear is that a change there may mean the virus gets better at breaking in or at evading our immune systems–or our vaccines. 

Another new Covid variant’s been found in Britain, in Denmark, in the U.S., in Australia, and in some other countries. So we don’t get to wave the flag over this one. It also has some changes to the spike protein, but it’s too early to know how significant the changes are. 

Some experts are recommending surge testing to try to stomp the beast out. Other experts are saying, “Yes, you idiots, but until you offer financial support to people who test positive, a lot of people will hide out instead of getting tested because they can’t afford to take two weeks off work. Or ten days. Or three minutes.”

That’s probably not an exact quote, but it is a good point.

*

Recent newspaper articles gave people a good scare by saying that British variant–also called the Kent variant; one of our world-beating contributions to the pandemic–is linked to a higher death rate. But that’s the same as saying it causes more deaths. It’s one of those read-the-fine-print things. 

A variant being linked to a higher death rate means it may be the cause but it may just happen to be in the room when the higher death rate happens. It hangs out with a rough crowd and they’re happy to let it take the blame. The variant has spread through nursing homes, which are full of people who are particularly vulnerable. The virus wouldn’t have to be supercharged to do a lot of damage among them.

But it’s also possible–not proven, but possible–that people infected with it have higher viral loads, which could both make it more contagious and harder to treat. But even that last part, about a higher viral load making it more contagious and harder to treat, is speculation.

It’s not time to panic over this one–we’ll have all the time we need to do that later if we have to. 

The non-speculative good news is that the current vaccines do a good job of targeting the variant. 

 

A quarantine update

If England’s rules on quarantine hotels looked absurd over the weekend, with its insistence on mixing people from Group A with people from Group B and then treating only Group A as scary enough to quarantine–

We’ll start that over, okay? If they looked absurd over the weekend, Scotland’s looks almost as silly today. Scotland, we read at first, was going to have everyone do a hotel quarantine: Group A right along with Group B. Now it turns out there’s a loophole. A father and daughter who flew from the U.S. by way of Ireland can quarantine at home. Because they came through Ireland. 

I’m happy for them. The child’s eight and hasn’t seen her mother in sixteen months. But it makes no sense at all. 

 

A bit of good news

Okay, I admit that this isn’t going to give us anything immediate, but long term it could help. An antiviral called EIDD-2801 (they haven’t passed that one through a focus group yet) may fight Covid in several ways: In the lab, it keeps Covid from replicating and from infecting human cells. In a mouse trial, two days of treatment reduced virus replication 25,000-fold when they gave it two days after exposure and 100,000-fold when they gave it twelve hours before and after exposure. 

They’ll be going into phase 2 and 3 trials in humans to test its safety and effectiveness in Covid patients.

58 thoughts on “Does lockdown damage the economy? 

  1. Everything affects someone. If people don’t pay their rent, the landlords or the housing associations then lose their income. If people don’t pay their mortgages, the building societies and banks lose out. Then their staff are at risk of losing their jobs … and then they won’t be able to pay their rent and mortgages either … and round and round it goes. A lot of businesses are asking for rates relief whilst they can’t trade, and I completely get that, but, if councils lose the income from business rates, either public services will have to be cut, or else council tax for private households will have to go up. This whole situation’s a nightmare :-( .

    Liked by 5 people

    • And needs to be addressed in something more than three-month blocks. Unfortunately, the government doesn’t seem to be doing anything more than sticking their fingers into the leaky spots, and no one has that many fingers. The whole thing needs to be addressed–gee, I hate this word: holistically.

      Liked by 4 people

        • Because so much of the time it’s used to mean not much in situations where there’s an absence of actual science. Or where maybe there is science but you’ll have to go dig it out yourself because invoking a holistic approach means we don’t need any.

          My turn for a question: How do I find out what color intrigued is? My crayon set doesn’t include it. And it’s one of the big ones that’s supposed to have every color ever invented.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ah, I think I see. Something akin to my aversion to the use of words like ‘progress’ and ‘sustainable’, which have been corrupted over time by those with an agenda.

            As for ‘Colour me…’, you pose a question of an entirely different kettle of fish! Even after doing a bit of what some laughingly call ‘research’ (ie, searching for facts on the often unreliable Internet), I’m unable to find an answer to that. It was an interesting diversion, however, and I thank you for it. I think the most interesting article I found on my travels was this one, on the psychology of colour. Having read that, I might be persuaded that ‘the colour of intrigued’ is, perhaps, orange?

            Liked by 1 person

            • It might be. A friend and I just exchanged emails about whether she could find a rhyme for orange. After I accused her of cheating, I think we agreed to banish the word from the language. It got a little strange after that and I may have agreed to wear black lipstick but I’m not sure. I hope not, because I’ve always hated lipstick.

              I need to be careful what questions I ask you, don’t I? You’ll end up down a rabbit hole if I’m not careful. And probably find me at the bottom of it.

              Bring along a cheese sandwich, will you? I’ll probably have been there for a while.

              Liked by 1 person

      • An odd lesson to learn from the Great Depression of the 1930s is that the world didn’t fully pull out of it until World War II forced it to spend money like mad. Suddenly industry went into high gear, jobs were there begging for people to take them, and the wheels all started spinning happily. Or not so happily, because it all depended on the war, which involves blood and death and pain and horror. And I’m saying that about one of the few wars that I believe needed to be fought.

        I’m no economist (among other things, I have a severe allergy to numbers), but I’m reasonably sure that if the world committed itself to major spending on frivolous things like renewable energy, home building, and making sure people get fed, we could pull ourselves out of the spiral.

        Liked by 2 people

        • You make a good point, I’m not sure what it’s like in the UK but I assume that many trade industries have mostly shut down, despite the fact that many of them can probably still work with social distancing. This was at least the case in New Zealand. I also think that the general public would be willing to spend money if there was more certainty about when the lockdowns were to be over. If there was certainty on this, people might be willing to spend their money on luxuries. So if the public is able to earn their own money and able to spend it freely, and the government is also able to work on those projects which create jobs and keep people spending money, thus reducing the economic impact of the lockdowns.
          In NZ, we had a government fund for businesses to pay their staff so that people weren’t all losing their jobs during lockdown, is it the same in Britain?

          Liked by 1 person

          • There are a couple of funds to keep people paid, but they only cover some people. A lot of people have fallen through the cracks, and the government shows no interest in catching them. Unemployment has hit people pretty hard, especially young people, the self-employed, people who work in bars and cafes and such, entertainers. And–oh, the list goes on.

            Keynesian economists tell us (and it’s worked in the past) that if a government spends money creating jobs, that money goes into circulation and has a multiplier effect, lifting the economy as a whole. It might mean that the government borrows money, but that can be sustained and paid down when times are better. That theory got sidelined, though, by neoliberal economics, which favored smaller government and tax breaks for the rich and has ended up with a far more lopsided distribution of income. The rich are richer, the poor are poorer, and the formerly stable middle class have seen their incomes shrink and are less stable.

            Every time someone calls for, say, massive investment in housing, or in income support for the poorest, or anything like that we hear about how much it costs. We can’t afford it, etc. etc. And yet something like the Trident missile system or the high-speed rail system that’s now being built and is massively over budget–those we can afford. It’s a matter of priorities.

            Sorry–I got carried away there. What were we talking about?

            Liked by 1 person

            • That makes me really sad to hear those people struggling, it must be so difficult though because if you own a bar say, and you don’t know when things are going to be back to normal then you have to think about yourself first. I think its a shame that there is a lack of governmental support for those people who are really struggling.
              What you say about investing is so true! The interesting thing is that around nz there are a lot of halls and other projects that were completed in the 20s, many to commemorate the soldiers lost in the Great War, so there was a great level of employment in that decade. I believe that it must have been similar in other places (they are called the roaring 20s for a reason!). However, I think that many of the governments probably hit a point where they couldn’t think of any more projects or perhaps fund them and there were a lack of other employers besides the government investing in the country, the businesses with employment were probably mostly smaller family businesses with limited employment. This could have been partly due to the fact that most of the Western countries borrowed money from Western countries also in the same position.
              We are in a more unique position this time because we have countries from the East, such as China to borrow from, which many countries are doing, even just to stay afloat during the lockdowns.

              Liked by 2 people

              • The roaring twenties–if New Zealand followed the overall world pattern (and I know a bit of NZ history, but not much)–weren’t a time of heavy government investment. That began, at least in the US, in the thirties. There were–again, I’m talking about the US–endless projects screaming for investment. The Civilian Conservation Corps did a lot of construction in national parks. Once you learn to recognize their work, you can spot it easily. It has a certain look to it. And it kept a lot of people working during that time. Artists of various sorts worked for the WPA–the Works Progress Administration–and did some powerful work. I’m sure there are other examples, but those are the ones I know. If you pay people who are broke, they spend money and it all ripples outward quickly.

                Liked by 2 people

  2. The South African variant has arrived here, so we all have to be tested in the next few days. I’m hoping that the mobile testing unit will be set up a bit more safely than the ones I’ve seen on the news. I don’t want to have spent all these months being careful only to catch it from someone standing too close to me in a queue.

    Liked by 2 people

    • No, QALYs and no more related to QAnon than I’m related to whatsisname Hawley. Is it Josh? Josiah? Jonah? Jehovah?

      Could the spike protein be bribed? I’m not sure. The danger is that if we try and we offend it–. Once you try something like that, there’s no going back. Maybe we should put out some deniable feelers and see what kind of response we get.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brilliant round up of all the fabulous on goings of the uk pandemic. I will just in a corner an be an ostrich as the storm of reopening will come, even when we are not ready. And what wonders will that creates to the shopping list of issues we already have. 🤒🤕☹🙈🙉🙊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The problem with deferring all that stuff is that the renters are expected to pay up fully at the end. From whence do they get the $$ ? Catch-22

    We are still a tad orange-averse over here. Though we do have (and have had for years) a marvelous comic strip called “Rhymes With Orange” which has a catchy theme song.
    https://rhymeswithorange.com/

    Looking up the Psychology of Colour article right now. Thanks !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the deferring thing’s a problem. The papers keep talking about a cliff edge and if they government’s trying to figure out what to do they’re keeping it very, very secret.

      Thanks for the link. I like her/their (I think they’re two people involved, but I wouldn’t swear to it) stuff.

      Like

  5. From what little experience I’ve gained from this whole mess – A lot of small businesses would have been in trouble as a result of the pandemic with or without the lockdown. Bunches of people were/are afraid to go to out regardless of what the government said/says.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A friend’s comment recycles through my head periodically. When they lifted the first lockdown, she said she and her partner hand’t gone into lockdown because Boris Johnson said to and they weren’t coming out because he said to. So yes, a lot of people were afraid to do the usual things. I know we were. And then you have to count the number of people who were sick, or taking care of someone who was.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You are correct. It isn’t the lockdown that damages the economy it is the virus! People in the US and other countries have a problem realizing this. If the lockdown had been started sooner and included better quarantining, testing, and tracing procedures the “virus” would have not damaged the economy as much. South Korea is an example. The nut jobs in the US blame the lockdown for the bad economy and still refuse to wear masks in public!

    Liked by 2 people

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