Coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation, unlike any people have faced before. And its impact isn’t just that on health, but on many other aspects of life. In fact, there are many ways in which this situation is impacting the world that isn’t quite obvious right away but will be felt down the line, possibly for many years. Like the way it has (and will continue to) impact the world economy, and jobs, and businesses. This is just the beginning, however. The true long term impact of coronavirus will become even more pronounced after the dust has settled, over the coming months.
The Economic Costs of Coronavirus
Economies are being shut down around the world to contain and limit the spread of the virus. This has a far-reaching impact on our economies.
Here are some numbers from the largest economy in the world today, that of the USA. Based on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s projections, the economic shutdown resulting from coronavirus will potentially result in 47 million jobs lost. That will increase their unemployment rate to over 32 percent. That rate of unemployment is the highest ever recorded in the history of the USA. Even during the Great Depression their unemployment rate was at 24.9 percent, whereas the most recent recession (the 2009 one) increased their unemployment rate by only 10 percent.
So, the 2009 recession increased unemployment by 10 percent, the Great Depression eras unemployment rate was 24.9 percent, but the coronavirus can end up resulting in a 32 percent unemployment rate. There are also predictions that coronavirus can cause a severe global recession.
All thanks to the economic shutdown measures fueled by coronavirus.
The impact of such a large scale economic shutdown will be felt for many years. But we don’t even need to wait to see the impact – we are already seeing examples, around the world, of the negative impact of the economic shutdown fueled by coronavirus. Like how UK output has plunged by 30 percent, or how in Japan car manufacturing has taken a hit, or how in the USA the weekly jobless claims have surpassed the 6 million mark!
Long term costs of Coronavirus on our mental and physical health
It is not just the impact on economies and businesses that is of concern, but also how it is impacting people now and will impact people down the line. For instance, 36 percent of Americans have confirmed that coronavirus has made a serious impact on their mental health (according to a poll by the American Psychiatric Association).
As for future predictions, according to clinical psychological scientists at the University of Washington’s Center for the Science of Social Connection, coronavirus could lead to an epidemic of depression, one our health systems are not ready to handle. The last recession (from 2007 to 2009) resulted in over 10,000 suicides in Europe and the USA. That’s 10,000 more suicides than before the recession, and just in the USA and Europe. This time, the recession is predicted to be worse, and the worsening rate of collective mental health caused by prolonged social isolation will only make things worse.
How long people live can also be impacted by this shutdown, especially if it continues for long. As research found, 1982’s unemployment rate increase cut short the collective life spans of Americans by a whopping 2-3 million years. Then there’s the rise of suicides, as mentioned earlier.
People’s general quality of health care has also taken a toll. Regular visits to GPs and health professionals for a routine health check-up is basically impossible these days, while even more major issues are involving extremely long waits. Two weeks earlier I was speaking with a pregnant friend of mine, based in Scotland, whose doctors refused to see her until she absolutely needed to, i.e. when she actually needed to give birth. So the normal pre-checks and health checks have gone out of the window.
Pregnant women and elderly people are especially in need of preventative health care, but that is currently not available for the majority as a result of the social distancing and quarantine practices.
Social Costs of the Coronavirus Shutdown
Economy and health aren’t going to be the only sufferers, there’s more, as prolonged quarantine can result in weakening society and social institutions. The long term impact of a pandemic was studied by Professors Arnstein Aassve, Guido Alfani, Francesco Gandolfi, and Marco Le Moglie. They studied the General Social Survey of the United States in the years before and after the Spanish-influenza pandemic of 1918–19. This is what they had to say about the matter in a piece they wrote at the Center for Economic Policy Research: “Similar to the Black Death, the Spanish flu had long-lasting social consequences leading to a decline in social trust… We argue that this potentially resulted from the experience of social disruption and generalized mistrust which characterized the period.”
A leading voice on the long term impact of coronavirus is that of Dr. Jay Bhattacharya‘s. A health policy expert, and professor of medicine at Stanford University, he has been vocal about his worries that governments around the world have not fully considered the long term health impacts of the economic shutdown. He summarised the impact quite well when he said that coronavirus can kill, but so will a global depression. And according to the current findings and stats, the shutdown will probably cause more deaths than the virus itself.
The negative impact on the economy, especially the loss of jobs, will add to the other factors and make things even worse. It will have a multiplying effect, multiplying the negative mental health and physical health impact.
Life Lab Magazine ran its own polls to determine how the coronavirus shutdown is impacting people. When asked if they were frustrated about being stuck at home, 61 percent said yes. And a big 77 percent of survey responders said they are worried about the long term impact coronavirus will have on the economy. Clearly, people are worried, and frustrated.
Relevant video: Questioning Conventional Wisdom in the COVID-19 Crisis, with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya
Is shutting down the economy really the best option?
The original prediction in the US, of how many people might die from coronavirus, was 2.2 million. That, understandably, caused a lot of panics. But the current forecasts have been adjusted, significantly, down to 100 to 200,000 deaths. But those early estimates caused panic not just in the USA, but around the world, causing many businesses to crash and burn.
The current forced social isolation situation has resulted in an increased rate of mental health issues, including suicide risks.
Here’s yet another thing to consider – the recent rise in coronavirus numbers is often down to the fact that more people are being tested now, rather than because of the actual spread of the virus.
The quarantine, namely the economic shutdown, very likely is going to save lives (“very likely” because it hasn’t been proven yet if these approaches really will save more lives in the long term, but more on that later). But the way it is affecting and will affect other areas of our lives, and our economies might be more costly in the long term than the benefits from this approach. That’s the negative long term impact of coronavirus.
This is not just my opinion by the way, but one shared by many others, including people who know what they are talking about:
- “Consider the effect of shutting down offices, schools, transportation systems, restaurants, hotels, stores, theaters, concert halls, sporting events, and other venues indefinitely and leaving all of their workers unemployed and on the public dole. The likely result would be not just a depression but a complete economic breakdown, with countless permanently lost jobs, long before a vaccine is ready or natural immunity takes hold. The best alternative will probably entail letting those at low risk for serious disease continue to work, keep business and manufacturing operating, and run society, while at the same time advising higher-risk individuals to protect themselves through physical distancing and ramping up our health-care capacity as aggressively as possible. With this battle plan, we could gradually build up immunity without destroying the financial structure on which our lives are based.” – Michael T. Osterholm, a director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota
- “I am deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near-total meltdown of normal life — schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned — will be long-lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself. The stock market will bounce back in time, but many businesses never will. The unemployment, impoverishment, and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order… as the workforce is laid off en masse, and colleges close, young people of indeterminate infectious status are being sent home to huddle with their families nationwide. And because we lack widespread testing, they may be carrying the virus and transmitting it to their 50-something parents, and 70- or 80-something grandparents.” – Dr. Katz, president of True Health Initiative and the founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center
- “[The government’s containment measures] are grotesque, absurd and very dangerous… The life expectancy of millions is being shortened. The horrifying impact on the world economy threatens the existence of countless people. The consequences on medical care are profound. Already services to patients in need are reduced, operations canceled, practices empty, hospital personnel dwindling. All this will impact profoundly on our whole society. All these measures are leading to self-destruction and collective suicide based on nothing but a spook” – Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, head of the Institute for Medical Microbiology and Hygiene, and a former professor at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.
- “What we need is to control the panic… we’re going to be fine” – Michael Levitt, Nobel Laureate and chemist
Relevant documentary: Deadliest plague of the 20th century – The Spanish Flu of 1918
Cost vs Benefit of the Coronavirus Shutdown
Here is an at-a-glance list of some the invisible costs that coronavirus (namely the economic shutdown fueled by it), is resulting in:
- Businesses are shutting down, a trend that will very likely get worse
- People are, and will, lose jobs
- Depression and other mental health issues are on the rise
- Suicide rate on the rise
- Vulnerable people are being marginalized and neglected
- Preventative health measures are all but absent now, which can give rise to rates of illnesses like cancer
- Increased rate of health problems, mostly fueled by stress and depression
- Shorter life span as a result of unemployment and declining mental health
- Social institutions are weakening
- Mistrust is on the rise
- Kindness is taking a step back while people are justifying being unkind using coronavirus as an excuse
Some might argue that governments are helping people and businesses by giving out funds. Yes, the government stimulus packages and benefits will help, but government treasuries aren’t infinite, and the help they are giving out is not enough to stop the joblessness and the rate at which businesses (especially small businesses) are going out of business. This is apparent already by looking at the numbers of people who have lost their businesses, and jobs.
Also, no amount of government financial benefits can really curb the social costs of the shutdown. Once social structures break down, and trust goes, it will take a long time to get things back to normal.
As for the effectiveness of the shutdown for limiting and dealing with the coronavirus spread, to be actually, truly effective the measures will have to last for up to 18 months, according to recent research by epidemiologists at the Imperial College London.
The longer the economic shutdown continues, the worse the impact will be on people’s lives and livelihoods. So perhaps it is time to reconsider this approach.
Is shutting down life as we know it really worth the benefits of the shutdown? Will they really outweigh the negative long term impact of coronavirus?
Surely there is a better way to deal with coronavirus rather than shutting down society?
Related video: Noam Chomsky on Coronavirus and What is at Stake
What Can You Do
You might not be able to do much about the economy at large personally, but there are still things you can do. Here are five.
To begin with, take what you hear in mass media with a pinch of salt. There is a lot of fear-mongering going on in mainstream and social media. It’s unfortunate, but bad news sells more papers and gets more eyeballs. So check the facts before you believe what you hear.
Think about ways you can safeguard your livelihood, especially if your job is or might be at risk because of the coronavirus shutdown. Having an emergency fund (with at least enough savings to last you six months without a job) is a really smart idea in this respect.
Practice kindness. Yes, things are challenging, yes practicing social distancing is a good precautionary measure. But that does not mean you can’t still be kind. Practicing kindness is not hard http://mhasalek.com/practicing-kindness-is-not-hard/, at the end of the day. Being nice to others does not mean you have to put your own health at risk. It can be as simple as being nice to the checkout staff at the busy grocery stores or asking elderly neighbors how they are. Being selfish isn’t what is going to get us through a crisis – it never has, and it never will.
If you need help with mental health issues, especially depression (it is normal to feel down about the current situation, so don’t beat yourself up if you do), seek help. Check out this resource for more information on dealing with mental health issues.
Last but not least, learn to manage your emotions. Staying calm during times of crisis is what really helps. Panicking does not. Make meditation a habit, as that helps manage stress and anxiety, and can help you stay calm even during high-pressure situations. It is not just good for your mind by the way – meditation is also good for your health.
The economic shutdown that is being implemented around the world right now to deal with coronavirus might do more harm than good in the long term, as you learned from the researches, experts, and evidence above. So it is time to reconsider our long term options.
Panic measures, at the end of the day, does not solve anything. It only causes over or under-reaction, both of which we’re noticing aplenty right now. So stay calm, and consider how best to get through this. And try not to worry too much, because, as the Nobel laureate Michael Levitt said: “we’re going to be fine”.
What are your thoughts on the long term impact of coronavirus? Are you worried about the impact it will have on the economy, businesses and our lives and society as a whole? Share your thoughts, notes, tips, and suggestions (if any) in the comments section below.
Note: Mostly statistics from the USA have been used because that was easily available and accessible. But the USA, being the largest economy and one of the most populated countries in the world, is a good indicator of how other countries around the world will be affected. Especially when the situation isn’t just one that is impacting them alone, but nearly every country on the globe.
By the way, you can listen to a summarised audio version of this article at the author’s podcast, here:
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