Dr Peter Hammond: The South African Corona virus lockdown should end

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Peter Hammond

Apr 2, 2020, 8:30 PM (7 hours ago)

The Lockdown Should End

The shutdown of the economy by government decree should end. The lasting and far-reaching harms caused by this authoritarian precedent far outweigh those caused by the COVID-19 virus. The people—individuals, families, local communities, congregations and businesses—must decide for themselves how and when to reopen and return to their daily lives.

Neither the president nor parliament has the legal authority to shut down daily life without due process. Business closures, restrictions on assembly, church services and movement and quarantines are not constitutionally permissible. These due process requirements may not be suspended. State officials may claim police powers to shut down communities and unilaterally imposing lengthy periods of virtual house arrest, but this is neither wise nor necessary.

We do not know, and cannot yet know, how many will become sick or die from the virus. We do know that predictions regarding infection and death rates are frequently highly unreliable. Even actual deaths attributable to COVID-19 are not so easy to count, as Italy has discovered. Age, general health, and comorbidity are difficult variables to assess, and people may die “with” the virus but not “from” it. It is also very difficult to assess the lethality of the virus relative to previously known types of flu and colds.

To date, COVID-19 deaths are far fewer than deaths in ordinary flu seasons or from past pandemics such as the H1N1 virus. This understanding is critically important to put the virus, and the government response to it, in perspective. Even during past pandemics, depressions and world wars, people went to work.

In 1850, French economist Frédéric Bastiat helped the world understand the “seen and unseen costs” of state policies. It is simple to see how quarantines and lockdowns will slow the spread of COVID-19. It is critical, but it is not so simple to see the costs and harms caused by an economic shutdown.

Only then can we rationally understand the trade-offs involved.

How many suffering from other illnesses cannot see a doctor now? How many will lose their jobs, their life savings, their retirement prospects and their incalculable feeling of self-worth? How many will succumb to depression, drug or alcohol abuse and suicide? How many will lose their homes, divorce their spouses, or suffer abuse? How many will never recover in their careers? How many small businesses, including the vital ones of doctors, dentists, and veterinarians, will vanish from your community? How many young people will “fail to launch”?

Worse still, will grocery stores remain open and adequately stocked? Will crime increase? Will the social fabric, already thin from politics, tear apart?

These questions are not rhetorical. Millions will not be able to pay their rent or mortgages. Millions of small businesses will suffer, just as many large employers, airlines and hotels already have. Millions are unemployed already, but many more jobs will be lost. The effects will escalate.

There is no conflict between humanitarian and economic concerns; in fact, they are two sides of the same coin. A poorer country will be a much less healthy country, one more vulnerable to future illness and disease. Technology, modern medicine and market innovators can address a virus; already we see entrepreneurs producing cheaper ventilators and doctors using cheap generic drugs with very promising results.

This local, decentralised, bottom-up approach is the only effective way to confront any crisis. Governments, as we see now and have in the past, are comically and tragically incapable of competence in times of crisis. Singapore, South Korea and Sweden have dealt with the COVID-19 epidemic, without a lockdown undermining the economy and impoverishing millions.

On a fundamental level, freedom really is more important than security—or, in this case, an illusion of security. We all demonstrate this in our personal lives every day, from flying to driving to riding bicycles, to consuming unhealthy food and drink simply because we like it. Security has never been the sole or even primary goal for any country.

Governments cannot decide what aspects of our lives are essential or nonessential. The people cannot simply sit at home and wait for government checks written on funds that government does not have.

End the Lockdown.

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