• Ashok Dhillon

Flattening Curves – Reopening Risks/Rewards (#117)

In a majority of countries that were the earliest and most infected by the Corona Virus, China, Korea, Japan, some of the European Countries, most notably Italy and Spain, and of course the United States, the rate of new infections has been declining recently, or as is more often expressed the ‘Curve is Flattening’ (the trajectory of new cases is slowing, on a daily basis); which means, that the numbers of people being infected by the COVID-19 virus may still be increasing in totality in some of these countries, but the rates of infections are declining.

In a number of the under-developed countries, and continents, like India, Brazil etc., and most of the countries of Africa and Latin-South America for instance, the COVID-19 Pandemic is just starting to take hold and the ‘curve’ is definitely on the up-swing and may not ‘flatten’ for quite some time yet.

One of the problems that has become quite apparent in this pandemic is that governments, to a larger or lesser degree, are massaging the numbers to make themselves look better, or try and mitigate the negative image of themselves and their poor performance in dealing with the viral infection, making accurate numbers assessment of people infected and dying in these countries extremely difficult. Nevertheless, the broad trends are quite apparent.

Worldwide the number of people infected by the Corona Virus currently is estimated to be over 5.2 Million, and the number of deaths recorded is at about 337,000. In the US, the leading country in terms of the most infected, the number of infected is now over 1.6 Million, and the recorded deaths that stand at over 100,000.

All numbers, globally and in America, are still rising rather rapidly. And while the numbers of people infected and dying from the pandemic is expected to keep rising indefinitely, still it is relatively safe to say that in a number of developed countries the curve is appreciably flattening, while in some, particularly in the developing world it is still rising.

As the curve flattens, the governments of these countries are beginning to loosen some of the restrictions imposed in the earlier stages of the pandemic, and are hoping to reopen and restart their stalled social and economic lives.

As the weeks had becomes months in the imposition of the 'lock-downs', not only did the economies of all these countries start to collapse, but the governments found their citizens becoming increasingly more frustrated and rebellious in being isolated and ‘locked’ indoors for extended periods of time. This frustration manifested itself in protests against lock-downs, social-distancing, self-isolation, the wearing of face-masks etc.

Faced with increasingly damaged economies, and with populations that were becoming frustrated by the hardships imposed by the lock-downs - job losses, financial difficulties and self-isolation - the governments have been forced to try and open at least parts of their economies cautiously, and lift some of the restrictions on lock-downs.

This has raised the risks of re-infections and the unflattening of the curve immediately, but it is a risk the governments are being forced to take in order to try and prevent further damage to their battered economies and their psychologically and financially stressed citizens.

In attempts to reopen the economies, even partially, and in lifting some of the restrictions on social-distancing, the risks are clear - a possible resurgence of infections and the probability of a second or third of lock-downs. But the rewards from reopening economies, even partially, before any tested and proven medical solution to the virus in the way of drugs or an effective vaccine has become available may be limited and very temporary. The reason being, that if there is a significant uptick in infections, then the reinstatement of the lock-downs will be economically and psychologically devastating. But, at this time, the governments feel they have little choice but to attempt the reopening of their economies and their societies towards some sort of normalization.

The experience of some of the countries that have attempted to reopen earlier than most, as they were the ones infected first, like China, South Korea, Singapore etc, are not encouraging. In all cases, there has been some resurgence of the virus, prompting the re-imposition of isolation controls.

In the US the response to the pandemic has been disastrous as the extraordinary numbers have proved. It is by far the most affected country in the world. Ironically, and tragically, proving American negatively ‘exceptionalism’ when it comes to the most botched response of any country to the pandemic.

Yet, because of the pressures of the coming Presidential election in November, Trump is pushing all the States to reopen as quickly as possible, regardless of whether the infection rate in the State is under control or not. He is going as far as to bully and abuse those State Governors who are resisting reopening too soon, and are trying to adhere to scientific expert advice as to monitoring pandemic markers to assess the readiness of the State to reopening.

Since one of the main causes of the US becoming the global epicenter was the early indifference of Trump, coupled with subsequent lax controls, lack of adequate testing and protective equipment, resulting in the mass spread of the virus, some of the State Governors are focusing on ramped-up testing and tracing, along with continued social distancing to try and mitigate and suppress the viral spread. After months of delays ramped-up mass testing is just becoming more widespread across the America, but it is by no means adequate yet or accurate for that matter.

So the risk of reigniting a second wave of infections in the US is very high, and is being boosted by Trump recklessly pushing to reopen at the earliest, in spite of repeated cautions by his very own experts.

Those countries that appreciably brought the virus under control relatively quickly, like China, South Korea, New Zealand, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and have significantly lesser infection and death rates than the US, took strong lock-down measures along with early extensive testing to slow and eventually control the virus, and they still are extremely vigilant regarding re-infections. The US, along with countries like Russia, India, Brazil and others aren’t there yet. So the fact that most countries are starting to open in spite of the pandemic not being under control globally, and there being no effective medical solution available just yet - means, it is almost certain the risks to reopening now far outweigh the rewards at this time.

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