Should young people be allowed to go to work to save the economy?
Written by: Katerina Partolina Schwartz
The most important thing to remember is that we do not know a lot about the Coronavirus. Every day scientists are learning more about it. A vaccine is still a faraway dream, and nobody is 100% sure how we should go about treating COVID-19. Until we know more about the virus, re-opening the economy would be premature because there is still not an adequate plan in place to keep people safe and to prevent another outbreak. A plan would require tracking, tracing, and a capacity for treatment including PPE, which the government currently does not have.
Herd Immunity was the initial policy pursued by the British government and was employed to take the virus ‘on the chin’. Herd immunity is when a population is exposed to a disease (in this case COVID-19) for immunity purposes. The British government was essentially relying on the NHS (which the Conservative Party has underfunded for years) and British stoicism – keeping calm and carrying on – to beat an incredibly infectious virus; a virus that has led to lockdowns across the world in the space of months. The WHO recently estimated that there is a 3.4 % mortality rate for those infected with Coronavirus. The United Kingdom has a population of roughly 67 million. Depending on the rate of infection, up to 60% of the population, in theory, could become infected and 3.4% of those infected would die, if the policy of herd immunity was pursued. This amounts to potentially hundreds of thousands of people dying just so that the British economy would not collapse. Just think about that for a minute. Boris Johnson’s government, through the policy of herd immunity, basically said that the economy was more important to them than the lives of British citizens. Individuals’ lives are not worth sacrificing for the sake of economic stability. Governments do not have the right to decide who gets to live or die and doctors should not be put in the position where they have to decide either.
The Coronavirus is thought to affect people over the age of 65 more than younger people. People of various ages are showing different symptoms, intensities, and duration of illness. COVID-19 might affect various age groups differently, but that does not mean that they are not affected. Recent reports have shown that young people are more likely to die from kidney failure or strokes than from lung failure, which is the common cause of death – from coronavirus – amongst elderly patients. Young people dying at lower rates than older people, is not a good enough reason to let young people out before those over the age of 65. The virus does not just affect one age group more than another, it varies from case to case, which means that nobody is completely safe from it. Even after an individual has recovered from the virus, they may incur physical and psychological trauma that will affect their life post-virus, which would have more of an impact on young people than the elderly.
The elderly will not necessarily be completely unaffected if the lockdown is lifted for younger people. Even if the lockdown is only lifted for young people, the elderly could still be exposed to it through private carers, visitors, or family members who live with them like children who could have been exposed to it within schools. Nobody is completely protected and until wide-scale testing is available and the number of cases drops considerably, we won’t know how prevalent the virus is. You cannot completely protect one age group, whilst letting out another, when there is still no way to trace where the virus is, and without knowing this information everyone will be at risk and the chance of another severe outbreak will increase. The elderly are more likely to have pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, and so any interaction with someone who could have been exposed puts them in more danger than if everyone remained in lockdown just a little bit longer.
I would like to reiterate – we know next to nothing about this virus. To even think about lifting the lockdown – before there are effective treatment options, enough PPE for essential workers, enough hospital beds and ventilators, and a decline in cases – is premature. Lifting the lockdown would result in a rise of cases which would once again overwhelm the NHS, and we will be right back to where we started. We should not be in a position where a country’s economy is seen as more important than people’s lives. Governments are meant to protect their citizens, not ask them to sacrifice themselves for their country’s economic stability. The important thing here is patience because eventually everything will return to normal, but right now we cannot think about re-opening any part of the economy because there have not been adequate measures put in place to stop and track the virus completely. A vaccine is not available, but every day scientists are learning more about how COVID-19 behaves. Governments are still having to make up for their failures early on in the outbreak, and only when these failures have been rectified can we begin to think about putting steps in place to open up the economy.