CME: THE DEBATE TOTAL LOCKDOWNS IS BASED ON WRONG ASSUMPTIONS
Thursday, 20 May 2021: Another ping-pong discussion between different institutions (Selangor and Federal governments) and within the same institution (Selangor government) is centered on the possibility to impose, nationally or in Selangor, a full-scale lockdown, like the one that was imposed at the beginning of the pandemic, and which caused a huge harm to the national life (under many perspectives, not only the economic one) without “breaking the chain of infections”.
No more than two days ago, Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz said that a total lockdown will be avoided for the sake of employment, but yesterday Selangor government, after an initial denial, declared itself open to accept the possibility. Furthermore, the dichotomy between lives and livelihoods is emerging again, with the narrative that lives have to be given priority over livelihoods.
“As declared in several other occasions – said Dr Carmelo Ferlito, CEO of the Center for Market Education – the debate is flawed under many perspectives”. CME highlights the following critical points:
- The debate is based on one fundamental assumption, namely that lockdowns can stop the virus spread and therefore it makes sense to sacrifice something for a greater good. All the other issues, like livelihoods or SOPs, directly derive from this very basic assumption. But, unfortunately, it has been demonstrated by tens of scientific papers (and by simple statistical observations) that lockdowns do not work, they just delay the problem, at the very best. A list of references can be found in the appendix here.
- No western country has defeated Covid-19 with lockdowns. They tried and failed. China too never lockdown the entire country (Wuhan region represents 4% of China GDP). When the Chinese lockdown was extended to regions like the Jilin province, protests emerged because of the sudden lack of basic items such as food (central planning always fails).
- Lockdown effects can become even worse due to the total lack of a clear exit strategy. MCO time will be wasted time if more investments to strengthen the healthcare system are not put in place.
- The distinction between lives and livelihoods is misleading: harming livelihoods means, ultimately, to harm lives because of increasing poverty, stress and mental health.
- Stay-at-home orders undermine the physical conditions of individuals, by forcing them to an unhealthy lifestyle. It is very likely that the surge in Covid-19 in Malaysia is, at least partially, due to immune systems that have been compromised by lockdown effects such as lack of mobility and mental stress. Lack of mobility, furthermore, increases the risk of obesity, bringing higher risk of mortality for cardiovascular diseases (which are the highest cause of death among Malaysians).
- The new consideration about shutting down “non-essential business” ignores, once again, that all businesses are essential to bring food to the mouth of those who own or work for that businesses. This was admitted also by Tengku Zafrul few months ago.
The Center for Market Education, which is working on a policy paper indicating a comprehensive management and exit strategy for Covid-19, invites to consider the following preliminary points that needs to be taken into account:
- Vaccination pace needs to accelerate.
- As it seems unlikely for vaccination to be completed at a fast pace, the best strategy now is to step up with mass and frequent testing, which means to give back lives to the people and to test each worker and each student on a weekly basis; this would allow early detection and more effective treatments.
- By avoiding lockdowns, the economy can restart and resources can be created to be invested to strengthen the healthcare system. In particular, the following things are needed:
- Temporary hospital beds.
- ICU units.
- Territorial healthcare strategies to handle mild cases from home and therefore avoiding hospital clusters.
- Research for more effective treatments.
- Better data collection for risk assessment. This includes better data with regard to clusters: if, in example, we say that 70% of the cases are from workplaces but 70% of the tests have been done in workplaces, this means that workplaces are “normally” dangerous. We need more data about:
- Relationship between tests, cases and deaths.
- Age, gender, race and medical conditions of the sever cases and dead patients.
“Finally – Dr Ferlito concluded – a new leadership seems very much necessary to handle the situation. The Parliament should allow to reconvene in order to decide the way forward and to call for the creation of an appropriate task force which needs to be free from political influence”.
APPENDIX: Scientific literature on the non-efficacy of lockdowns
See, among others:
- Atkeson, A., Kopecky, K. and Zha, T. (2020), Four Stylized Facts about COVID-19, NBER Working Paper 27719, Cambridge, MA, National Bureau of Economic Research, https://www.nber.org/papers/
- Chaudry, R. et al. (2020), A country level analysis measuring the impact of government actions, country preparedness and socioeconomic factors on COVID-19 mortality and related health outcomes, «EClinicalMedicine», 25, 100464, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.
- Delarochelambert, Q. et al. (2020), Covid-19 Mortality: A Matter of Vulnerability Among Nations Facing Limited Margins of Adaptation, «Frontiers in Public Health», https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.
- Loewenthal, G. et al. (2020), COVID‐19 pandemic‐related lockdown: response time is more important than its strictness, «MEBO Molecular Medicine», 12, e13171, https://doi.org/10.15252/emmm.
- Mulligan, C.B. (2021), The Backward Art of Slowing the Spread? Congregation Efficiencies during COVID-19, Working paper 2021-51, Becker Friedman Institute, University of Chicago.
- Oh, C. et al. (2021), Assessing Mandatory Stay‐at‐Home and Business Closure Effects on the Spread of COVID‐19, «European Journal of Clinical Investigation», https://doi.org/10.1111/eci.
A long list of other papers can be found here.
About CME: The Center for Market Education (CME) is a boutique think-tank based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As an academic and educational institution, CME aims to promote a more pluralistic and multidisciplinary approach to economics and to spread the knowledge of a sounder economics, grounded in the understanding of market forces. In order to do so, CME is not only involved in academic initiatives, but it organizes seminars, webinars and tailor-made economics classes for students, journalists, businesspeople and professionals who wish to better understand the relevance of economics for their daily lives and activities. Economics matters and needs to be presented in a fashion in which the link with reality is clearly visible. In this sense, we look not only at theoretical economics but also at policy making, with an emphasis on the unintended consequences generated by political actions.