The Trade Off Between Economics and Public Health

With the emergence of corona virus disease as a global pandemic almost every country had to initiate significant lockdown measures, at the time it seemed like the quickest and most effective approach to stop the spread of the virus.

With the lockdown came an almost total shutdown of economic activities. As the effects of the lockdown measures began to kick in it became obvious that most nations could not keep up with the economic effects.

The more developed countries were able to provide  relief packages like unemployment benefits to meet the immediate needs of their people for that period. For example the United states paid 1200 dollars (About 540,000 naira) to those who filed for unemployment.

Sadly, the less developed countries found it difficult to cope. For a country like Nigeria, dwindling oil and tax revenues meant governments had to review their proposed budget estimates downwards.

As the lockdown continued it became obvious that government could not provide basic food for its citizens because it simply lacked the capacity to do so. The little interventions of the federal and state government seemed insignificant relative to the number of people who needed them.

Daily cases have not stopped increasing and public health experts have suggested that we might have to accept the fact that corona virus will be here for a while,  probably till a vaccine or cure is found.

This has tasked governments with making difficult decisions, opening the country is bound to increase the risk of rapid spread of the disease and most people agree that our health system is not capable of dealing with such pressure.

However, leaving the nation under lockdown is bound to have harsh economic results which will be harder on majority of the population who live below the poverty line.

The United Nations recently warned that about 60 million people in Africa will be pushed into poverty due to the covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the economic hardship there is a higher risk of social unrest and this is a nightmare for the political class in Nigeria.

The trade off between public health and economics is a dicey one for governments around the world but majority will agree that they are both important and quite interdependent so there is a need to design opening up processes that still ensure people remain safe.

A lot will depend on the ability of individuals to take personal precautions to stay safe and government will need to communicate that effectively while still putting measures in place to monitor the compliance of the public with safety measures.

Olusanya Oluwatomi
Pharmacist/Economic Policy analyst writes from Abuja, Nigeria

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