The Idiocy of the “Proportional Restrictions” Approach to Fighting the Pandemic

In the previous post,I described briefly the 4 different stages of increased restrictions that Governments appear to be taking to contain the COVID virus in their countries. But what this approach amounts to is what I call as the “Proportional Restrictions Approach” – and that is what most Governments are taking up. In this approach, the restrictions imposed on the country’s population evolves directly proportional to the extent of the spread of the virus – number of infected cases and deaths.

So essentially, it is Virus Spreads first,  Restrictions come in later. With the exceptions of countries like Italy, where the outbreak happened very quickly before any meaningful measures could even be implemented, most countries are taking a ‘step by step’ approach wherein the restrictions are a direct and proportional REACTION to the increasing infected cases. So it means the Governments start by advising and suggesting people to stay indoors, then move on to declaring symbolic emergencies with no real action items, followed by restricting movement to only ‘essential’ services, but then inevitably ending with a complete lockdown of the entire country.

Simple fact is that every country all over the world which is taking this ‘proportional restrictions’ approach will inevitably reach the complete lockdown phase of restrictions in 2-4 weeks. Why? Because it is simply not possible to make humans stay home.

We humans are simply not wired to take things that we can’t see seriously. If we see a pack of rabid street dogs (or a horde of zombies) roaming the streets, we stay home. But we are completely OK heading out as long as we don’t actually see the virus or its direct impacts (a.k.a lots of sick and dead people).

So no amount of ‘suggesting’, ‘advice doling’, ‘pleading’, ‘educating’ will make mankind simply change some of the most fundamentally hardwired habits and activities within us, and make us stay at home. All over the world, there are instances where people willfully go outside for reasons that are not essential. And they will continue to do so until the Government tells them (and even demonstrates by example) that it is illegal to do so.

Which is why this ‘step by step’ or ‘proportional restrictions’ approach actually MAKES SURE that every one of those countries WILL reach a stage where the virus is completely out of control, at which point the ONLY option available is to put the country in a complete lockdown and FORCE the population to stay home. So my basic question is this:

If a country is going to a complete lockdown anyway, then why won’t they just enforce it upfront – when the number of cases are low and manageable, and when the healthcare systems actually have the resources to take care of these people?

Or put in other words, there are two options: Impose complete lockdown when you only have a small number of cases and contain the spread completely. Or impose a complete lockdown only AFTER the virus has spread sufficiently that it is no longer possible to control it with lesser measures.

As an example, here is a timeline of how New York City responded (or has still yet to respond) to the pandemic sweeping it now. Fair warning: it is a scary collection of statements and (lack of) actions from every side over the past one month. But it perfectly illustrates how the restrictions in place evolved in direct REACTION to the spread of the virus. As it stands today (March 28), the city’s parks and playgrounds are still open to the general public with the City only ‘advising’ and ‘suggesting’ that social distance be maintained. Who wants to place a bet that they will close in the coming days? Does anyone expect this to NOT be inevitable? The only difference between shutting down parks and playgrounds in early March vs early April is over 30,000 sick people and over 500 dead (with more heading that way).

So if anything, the Governments have a MORAL responsibility to shut down the country and place them in complete lockdown for 2-3 weeks with no travel into, out of or within the country. But who actually has the balls to do that? 

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