EconPol Europe policy report: Sacrificing lives does not save the economy

| Press release

“Sacrificing lives does not save the economy” is the stark conclusion of a new policy report from EconPol Europe. The report, which provides an overview of the number of cases, death toll, economic disruption and measures taken to combat Covid-19, concludes that short of an effective vaccine, no single measure is enough to stop the pandemic.

Instead, say authors, societies need a combination of effective social distancing measures, careful hygiene, use of masks in indoor public spaces and contact tracing. Population-scale testing could also play an important role in combatting this and future pandemics.

“Our main conclusion is that suppression is the preferred option both for health and the economy,” say authors Panu Poutvaara and Madhinee Valeyatheepillay. “Countries that fail to suppress the pandemic risk a disastrous overburdening of their health care system, resulting in a situation in which intensive care units run out of beds and patients who could have been otherwise saved die.”

Other key findings of the report include:

  • The implementation of non-pharmaceutical countermeasures varied from country to country and played an important role in the spread of the virus. Countries that reacted before the virus spread uncontrollably did not need to impose a lockdown
  • In countries with efficient, high-quality government institutions, high public attention (measured by share of Google searches related to Covid-19) fosters early policy measures and helps to save lives
  • Women, financially vulnerable families and workers in the ‘undeclared economy’ are disproportionately affected by the labor market shock caused by COVID-19

“So far, countries that have pursued suppression strategies have both saved lives and been more likely to avoid large-scale and long lockdowns,” say authors. “With its almost 24 million inhabitants, Taiwan has only about 700 cases and 7 deaths as of December 2020, the latest of them in May. Taiwan implemented targeted restrictions early on, and succeeded in suppressing the epidemic and avoiding a lockdown.”

Other countries with low numbers of reported deaths in both absolute terms and relative to population include New Zealand (25 deaths), Vietnam (35), Thailand (60 deaths), Norway (361 deaths), Finland (424 deaths) and South Korea (556 deaths).

“At the time of writing this report, news about vaccine development is encouraging, and it is to be hoped that the situation will return towards normality in 2021,” conclude the authors.  “But important challenges remain before the epidemic can be suppressed. Doing so requires a combination of physical distancing, using masks in public indoor spaces, hand hygiene, contact avoidance - including restrictions aiming at avoiding super-spreader events - and contact tracing.”