Dr Fear

What we need is targeted counter-measures to protect the old and vulnerable but let the rest of the population get on with their normal lives, so our open and free market economy can function for the general good of all


By Kevin-James Fenech

Kevin is the founder and owner of JOB Search - jobsearch.mt and FENCI Consulting fenci.eu.

Dr Fear has spoken. The people must obey. Ban this, stop that and control all. Now, if we were talking about the Ebola virus, Smallpox or the Bubonic Plague, I would perhaps understand but we are not.

We are dealing with a novel coronavirus which has a mortality rate of 0.6% (Source: WHO).

So my question is, does it make sense to insist on draconian and authoritarian measures to ‘control’ the spread of the virus? Does it make sense to continually impose a one size fits all set of restrictions on the whole population? Since when you control, close and stop everyone, you introduce a whole lot of uncertainty which destroys business confidence and God forbid brings about a recessionary situation.

Yes the UK removed Malta from its Safe Travel List but it also removed Portugal, Holland, France, Monaco and (at the time of writing) most likely Greece and Turkey. This is a global pandemic and goes beyond local politics.

Dr Fear needs to appreciate that tourism has a GDP multiplier effect of circa 28%. Whereas direct GDP contribution is in the region of 16% but still you are talking of something that if shut down or severely restricted, will quite literally choke the Maltese economy. The same applies to many other EU countries and this is precisely why in June the EU Commission led an initiative of reopening European borders and ‘rebooting’ tourism. The EU recognised how important tourism is to the economic recovery.

Granted, there has been a spike of cases in most EU tourist destinations this month but didn’t we know this would happen? I mean if freedom of movement exists people will travel and the virus will follow. Dr Fear will tell us we need to close down and restrict again but I ask why? Until there is a vaccine the virus will spread across borders and no country can afford to lockdown until the vaccine is readily available for mass immunisation. So I ask if the mortality rate is 0.6% why apply restrictive and controlling measures on the whole population and which have a big negative economic impact?

Dr Fear would also do well to understand how Risk Management works. In the business world, risk is deciphered by considering the probability of an outcome versus the severity of impact. An outcome has a low-medium-or-high probability of occurring and similarly the severity of impact is classified as low-medium-or-high. Applying this to the public health risk of COVID19 in Malta, I would say that the probability of the virus spreading within the community is high but the severity of the impact is low given its 0.6% mortality rate (Source: WHO).

To contextualise the matter: If COVID19 was as deadly as Ebola or Smallpox, it would be a different risk assessment, since the ‘Severity of Impact’ would be ‘high’ given the mortality rate (Ebola: 50% and Smallpox: 30%). In such a scenario, we would need restrictions and aggressive COVID19 counter-measurers. Fortunately, we are dealing with a mortality rate of 0.6%.

Tony Blair just this week said: ‘In every single aspect of this, once you realise you are not going to eradicate the disease, you are going to have to contain it and live with it at least until a vaccine comes, then you have just got to have a sensible risk calculus in every area.’

Translated in simple language: if something has a high probability of happening but the public health impact is low, I mitigate the risk and focus on the high risk cases without jeopardising the whole economy. You do this by protecting the old and the vulnerable. What you should not do is introduce ‘a one size fits all’ restrictive policy on the entire population, since the economic price is far too high.

The COVID19 countermeasures which Dr Fear is insisting upon (ban this, stop that and control all) are better suited in a controlled laboratory environment perhaps but we live in a thriving democracy and our economic system is based on free market economics therefore any restrictions, coercive public health measures and/or authoritarian decisions on the entire population, destroys all this.

Yet Dr Fear tells us that this is not fair and that ‘…the burden must be shared by all and not disproportionately by vulnerable individuals…’ But why? Why should we put the whole population through a painful recession when we can protect the vulnerable and mitigate the risk so as to avoid an economic recession. What is wrong with a ‘balanced approach’?

Dr Fear needs to change into Dr Good, otherwise we are in for a long and deep recession. Uncertainty, public health restrictions on a whole population and fear, are the recipe for an economic recession.

What we need is targeted counter-measures to protect the old and vulnerable but let the rest of the population get on with their normal lives, so our open and free market economy can function for the general good of all.

As Tony Blair so eloquently put it, every government has over relied on medical or scientific experts throughout this pandemic but ultimately political leaders need to recognise ‘…where the science ends and judgements begins’.

Our political leaders need to listen to Dr Fear / Dr Good as well other important stakeholders but finally their judgement is their own and they will thrive or sink politically on the judgement they take. I am convinced that the balanced approach as well as targeted measures to protect the old and/or vulnerable, is far more effective than blanket public health restrictions on the whole population.

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