Economically speaking, this is the quiet before the storm. In six months we will be in the grip of a 1980s-style recession in which about 300,000 workers will “permanently” lose their jobs. That’s not some dire warning from a Dracula economist, that’s the assessment of Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, who has been briefing party colleagues and potential coalition partners to that effect for several weeks. Thousands of consumer-facing businesses are also likely to go to the wall when the cost of not trading for several months combined with new social-distancing norms are brought to bear. Containing the virus has come at a hefty price and we’re about to pay it.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to ask whether we could have avoided such a wholesale shutdown of the economy. Particularly when we’re unlikely to deploy the same tactic again. A second wave will be dealt with via aggressive testing and tracing.

In almost all US states infection rates declined, not increased, after lockdowns ended

Investment bank JP Morgan published a recent research note, assessing the virus R0 rates (the rate at which infections are transmitted between people) in each US state as lockdowns were lifted. It showed that in almost all US states infection rates declined, not increased, after lockdowns ended.

The report concluded that the virus had its own “dynamics unrelated to often inconsistent lockdown measures that were being implemented”.

The evidence suggested that “common sense measures unrelated to full lockdowns”, such as social distancing and hand-washing, were more effective in containing the virus, it said.

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Moving parts

Epidemiology is a complex business with many moving parts and this is just one report.

Nonetheless it presents the possibility that there may have been space between social distancing and lockdown in which to curtail the virus while limiting the economic fallout.

The problem for Ireland and most other western countries is that we failed to see the threat for what it was when it first emerged in China, preferring instead to point out Beijing’s failings.

Amnesty International issued a report that noted “censorship, harassment and punishment for speaking out are hindering the fight against the coronavirus outbreak”. The Washington Post proclaimed the “outbreak shows the vulnerability of ‘the Chinese model’ ”.



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