While testifying before the Senate in May, Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, warned of the consequences of U.S. states reopening too quickly by saying that “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control.” He added that a premature reopening “would not only lead to some suffering and death, but it could even set you back on the road to economic recovery”.
Daily new infections had supposedly peaked at 36,738 cases on April 24 and they gradually fell to 17,618 by May 11, with an end to the pandemic seemingly in sight. As the reopenings gathered pace, however, Fauci’s warnings appear to have been well-founded with the country experiencing an alarming resurgence in infections amid fears that it has indeed lost control of Covid-19. On June 26, the U.S reported 45,300 new daily infections.
At least 16 states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, have now either paused or backtracked on reopening their economies. President Trump has been urging state governors to reopen for weeks, even before the U.S. reached its initial peak and seemingly regardless of the consequences for vulnerable Americans. That raises an uncomfortable question. Should governments be saving as many lives as possible while incurring economic damage or focusing on saving jobs instead of taking precautions to keep citizens safe?
In many countries that have suffered a significant impact from Covid-19 such as Italy, Spain, Germany and France, the strategy of patience is now paying off with all reopening their economies in time for the busy summer tourism season. Governments in those countries and others similarly affected only relaxed restrictions when infection rates fell to a level where testing and contact tracing could be employed effectively to keep the disease in check.
Edelman released a Spring Update to their Trust Barometer which gauged respondents’ attitudes about whether the government should prioritize lives or jobs. 67% of the survey’s 13,200 participants in 11 countries felt the government should save as many lives as possible, even if it means the economy will sustain more damage and recover more slowly. 33% of those polled said it is becoming more important for the government to save jobs and restart the economy than to take every precaution possible to keep people safe from the virus.
Japan had the highest share of people valuing lives over economic recovery at 76%. A majority of Americans, 66%, think lives should be the priority while 34% feel the focus should be on the economy. It has to be pointed out that the research was conducted around the time the U.S. was approaching its first peak in April and it will be interesting to see if attitudes have changed given the post reopening spike. In China, the first epicentre of the coronavirus, things are closer with 56% valuing the authorities saving lives and 44% wanting to restart the economy rather than keeping citizens safe.
*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista)