Since in all the countries of the world, a third lockdown is in the offing, we must dare to ask ourselves a question that few people dare to ask still, even if it is, unconsciously, in many minds: what would happen if we were obliged to lockdown for a month or two, every four or six months, for long years?
Nobody really dares to think about this hypothesis, because it is very difficult to admit that this pandemic is really sustainable. Everyone prefers to think that this absurd nightmare will soon end; either naturally, because any previous pandemic has always ended up going away; or again because vaccines will soon succeed in defeating it; or again because treatments will soon succeed in making this disease benign, and without long-term consequences. Or finally because the ultimate cause of the disease will have been found and tackled.
However, nothing could be less certain. And if we really want to face the future, in all these dimensions, we must also prepare ourselves in case this pandemic is here to stay for a very long time, to assess all the consequences, and try to avoid them.
In this hypothesis, three strategies are possible:
A first strategy, imposed by the older people, would be to continue trying to reduce the impact of the pandemic on health systems, through repeated lockdowns. If each future lockdown is similar to those already experienced, only the sectors that today are called “essential” will be left open. Each country’s economy will fall by 20% each time, on average per year, and then rise again, but never to the same level as before. Then it will come down again. At the 8th lockdown, each country will have lost, depending on the case, between 20% and 30% of its tax revenues, jobs and production capacity. This would be the equivalent of the cost of a war. With this strategy, at a certain time, which remains to be defined, we would no longer be able to finance health and social systems, either through taxation (which will have been increased on the richest to the extreme), or through debt, which has become intolerable. Social transfers would then have to be massively reduced in order to save the essentials. Poverty would become entrenched and the crisis would worsen. All the countries which follow this logic will end up in irreversible decline.
A second strategy, which may be imposed by the younger generation, would be to refuse lockdown, to face up to illness, to keep the economy at work, without further lockdown, without new protection, with shops open, universities open, factories running at full capacity, to produce at all costs, with all possible means, enough to provide everyone with income and work; and to have the means to finance the means to care for those who, in increasing numbers, will fall ill; and to accept that many more people, especially the elderly and obese, will die because of the lack of sufficient care available. Hoping that, within a few years, the 12 billion doses of vaccine that humanity will need each year will eventually be produced; and that they will be effective.
A third strategy would be to get away from the absurd distinction between essential and non-essential production: the real distinction is between the production that is desired and that which is not, provisionally. It would be necessary to lockdown those who devote themselves to producing the provisionally unwanted production; and to give those who produce and distribute the desired production the same means of protection as medical staff.
To make a distinction between desired and undesired production, there is nothing better than the market and the public services: it is absurd to prevent people from producing and buying the things they want and can afford to pay for. Any place frequented by the public must be considered as deserving the same health security as an operating theatre. Therefore, we must produce and sell whatever people want to buy; let all students go to university, with the same precautions for university staff as for hospital staff; let a large proportion of unwanted consumption be redirected to the desired sectors. And help those who cannot afford the desired goods. So, only those sectors corresponding to goods that people don’t want would be closed for a time. The more we can afford them, the more we will create the conditions for them to become desired again.
In order to prepare for this, it is necessary to mass-produce and distribute, as a matter of urgency, the protections attributed today only to medical staff and to distribute them to workers, engineers, shopkeepers, teachers; then, even to the staff of tourism, culture and transport.
The cost to the community would be higher than the masks and the freeze, but the enormous impact on the economy and tax revenues will quickly offset it; and many sectors will find outlets.
Will we be able to live sustainably in this world of divers? I don’t know. In any case, it’s a strategy to be prepared, if we want to think beyond the next two months. Humanity has got used to worse and will one day have to get used to even stranger things. While tackling what seems to be the main source of this disease’s morbidity, obesity. And therefore by speeding up the fight for a better diet.