Britain must remain in full lockdown until June if it is to avoid the worst effects of the coronavirus, the government’s leading epidemiology adviser warned last night.
As the virus claimed its 1,000th life in the UK — a doubling of the death toll in just three days — Professor Neil Ferguson said in an interview that the entire population could need to stay at home for nearly three months.
That might even be true about deaths from coronavirus. It would still be a damn fool thing to do.
It’s the same with every expert in a field – even assuming that he’s right and Oxford isn’t. He’s solving his specific problem and not accounting for the harms done elsewhere of his solution. Closing down the economy for a few weeks may or may not be the correct thing to do. Closing it down for many months isn’t.
Our aim, recall, is to maximise aggregate human utility over time. Not having an economy to come back to doesn’t do that – for all that the economy not existing at all is mere extremist rhetoric. There really is some point at which the economic loss – because economic losses cause deaths over time – is a greater cost than the benefit of not having to bury or burn 20,000 or 50,000 or 250,000 corpses.
Estimations of those values will differ, of course they will, but the underlying concept is true all the same.