Every day at 1pm Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield updates us on the number of confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19, the number who have recovered and those who have died.
It is impossible to count the other costs:
A leading heart failure specialist is among those concerned that lives could be lost through people failing to seek treatment during the pandemic.
And another fears that a drop in pathology testing could mean cancers and coronary disease go undetected for longer, while cancelling or postponing elective surgery could mean some patients end up in hospital in a much more serious condition. . .
Delays in diagnosis and treatment can mean much worse outcomes for many diseases and ocnditions.
There are other unseen costs:
University of Auckland Economist Dr Ananish Chaudhuri says the immediate emotional power of people dying with the disease could lead New Zealand into an extension of the Covid-19 lockdown with dire consequences, including more deaths.
Chaudhuri, who is currently Visiting Professor of Public Policy, at Harvard Kennedy School, says people over-estimate the costs of immediate and visible dangers, which clouds judgement and calculations of the unseen costs arising from their reaction.
“Extension of the lockdown would aim to save a more certain number of lives now, for an unknown number of lives we will lose over time due to health and economic impacts.
“Unemployment is not just a number; there are human health and fatality costs. When unemployment goes up the life expectancy of those people goes down. Furthermore, there are devastating consequences for communities from high unemployment – depression, poverty, violence, falling education.
“People have tried to claim that extending the current lockdown is a choice between saving lives and losing money, but it’s not. It’s a choice between losing lives now but losing lives later – and possibly a greater number and a greater variety of otherwise healthy people later.”
Chaudhuri points to research showing that the immediate aftermath of the 911 attacks was an estimated 1500 additional deaths on the road, from people driving rather than flying. It arose because in an environment surrounded by concerns over terrorism, people judged they were more likely to die of terrorism than a traffic accident, or even of the more likely event of respiratory illness or heart attack.
“The problem is that we pay more attention to, and value higher, things happening right in front of us – but we don’t pay attention to, or value, even larger things that happen less visibly or more slowly.”
Chaudhuri says an error is being made by those who differentiate between objectives of suppression, eradication, or mitigation.
“It’s a continuum between doing nothing and doing everything – and there’s different costs along that continuum. The challenge is to correctly perceive and calculate those costs.” Chaudhuri says.
It is not a simple case of the lockdown saving lives and freeing us up endangering them.
Lives will be saved by fewer people contracting Covid-19 because of the lockdown and some will be saved by being able to get treatment that would have been denied them had hospitals been overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases. But other lives will be lost and blighted through delayed diagnosis and treatment, increases in suicide, and the emotional and financial toll of business failures and job losses.
I think it was right to go into lockdown and that, if it wasn’t done sooner, large gatherings should have been stopped earlier.
Friends who were invited to a wedding on March 21st received a message a few days earlier from the couple saying their guests health was more important than their wedding and they were postponing it.
On the advice of friends who are doctors we cancelled a 90th birthday we were to host on the 21st too.
That day the government order went out that no gatherings of more than five people should take place but that was too late for those already taking place, at least one of which has resulted in a cluster of Covid-19.
In supporting the lockdown, I acknowledge that it incurs other substantial costs including lives that will be lost. That is why I support the idea of what’s safe rather than what’s essential as the guide for which businesses can operate.
If an electrician can visit a safely house when all the fuses blow, why can’t s/he work on a new build or renovation?
If supermarkets and dairies can sell their goods safely why not bakeries, butchers and greengrocers?
If greenkeepers can work on golf courses, why can’t a lone operator mow private lawns?
The rules around a change in levels will be announced today.
To reduce the other costs of the lockdown, they must include a change from allowing only essential businesses to operate to allowing any business that can operate safely to do so.