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safe movement vs. no movement

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When an epidemic breaks out, especially one that has killed as many people as quickly as coronavirus, it makes sense to ban public gatherings and restrict physical contact. But does that mean that borders should be permanently shut down?

It really depends a lot on the danger presented. For example, if we expected the sort of deaths that Europe experienced during the plague era, it might be advisable. However, coronavirus is no where near that level. Some of the scariest numbers come from model estimates where people, literally, do nothing at all to prevent transmission. It will be a while before we have good data and valid inferences about the precise levels of danger, but coronovirus is almost certainly not near plague levels in terms of danger. It is more in the murky intermediate zone of danger.

If you are faced with a very serious problem, but not one of existential threat, why might you allow travel and migration? There are some very sensible reasons:

  • Jobs – food will still need to produced and distributed. And migrant labor is often the way we do that.
  • Safety – A lot of people in this world live in incredibly dangerous places. The danger may be from dysfunctional health services or repressive governments. We should try to see if we can make it possible for people to safely move.
  • Helping the elderly – if the coronavirus sheltering and lock down continue, a lot of elderly people in this world will need help. They need to stay at home. Relatives and paid helpers will need to be hired so they can live.

What I propose is a policy of “safe movement” vs. no movement. We should ask, what policies can be proposed to allow safe movement? For example, we may require that people from other nations quarantine for 14 days before we let them in.  We can also increase monitoring and screening at entry points. This is what was done in the US during the Ellis Island era of migration. We can also ask about innovation – how can transportation be improved so it reduces risk?

Bottom line: When disaster strikes, we need to respond, but that doesn’t mean we have to impose policies that will have counter intuitive effects. Innovation is the key, not panic.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 18, 2020 at 5:53 pm

Posted in uncategorized

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