Author(s): Marius Gilbert 1 , Mathias Dewatripont 1 , Eric Muraille 1 2 , Jean-Philippe Platteau 2 , Michel Goldman 1
(1) Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
(2) Université de Namur, Namur, Belgium
Several Asian countries have been successfully curbing their COVID-19 pandemics through a combination of large-scale testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, in parallel with moderate (e.g., South Korea) or strong (e.g., China) social-distancing measures. These have relied on a rapid upscaling of testing capacity and a parallel mobilization of thousands of health workers recruited to perform contact tracing. Many European countries, as well as the USA, have in contrast been overtaken by the speed of the establishment and spread of the causative virus and have failed to anticipate the supply and logistics of large-scale testing and personal protective equipment. Since no vaccine will be available for several months or even more than a year, the control of this pandemic can be achieved only by a major social reorganization. Therefore, these latter countries were left with no choice but to adopt aggressive social-distancing measures so as to curb the pandemic below their health systems' capacity, with variable success. A paradox is that the somewhat delayed control of these pandemics through social distancing may have left these countries with a comparatively greater fraction of an immune population than that in countries in which the pandemic was quickly contained, which could play in their favor in the prevention of resurgences.
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The global nature of this pandemic and the fact that neighboring countries are at different pandemic levels suggests that the pandemic crisis could be long. However, from an economic and social point of view, confinement measures are not sustainable in the long run. In fact, a sustained economic slump will create negative health consequences, from 'deaths of despair'1 to pressures on public-health budgets, which might thereby create more non-COVID-19-related deaths than confinement would save from this disease. In addition, social tensions linked to severe prolonged confinement, which negatively affects people quite differently, financially as well as non-financially, may get out of hand. A well-designed exit strategy...