A few weeks ago, a group of over 600 doctors in the United States co-signed a letter sent to President Trump in order to get him to put an end to general lockdown measures. They invoked the negative consequences of forced isolation as well as the near-total closing down of the American economy. Concretely, the doctors warned the president about rises in alcoholism, homelessness, suicides, heart attacks, overdoses, and several other negative effects.
While their arguments were based mainly on their expertise and on the fact that they are on the front lines, the numbers confirm their worries. Official American data show that over the past months, the number of overdoses has exploded: For May alone, overdoses jumped by nearly 42%. The story is similar in Canada, where the Ontario government noted that from March to May, the number of overdoses was 25% higher than for the same period last year. This unfortunate situation may be similar for suicides and homelessness.
Economists know that every decision has a cost: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. When our governments decide to impose a lockdown on the population in order to “flatten the curve,” this decision has a cost, which is just what the US and Canadian data show. Even though the government is well-intentioned in attempting to slow the propagation of COVID-19, we mustn’t forget the harmful effects of generalized lockdowns. We should favour targeted measures, which would be far less costly, both in monetary terms and in human lives. The suffering represented by these facts should inform policy-makers going forward.