[ExI] Lockdowns For The Win!

Rafal Smigrodzki rafal.smigrodzki at gmail.com
Wed Apr 7 08:37:31 UTC 2021

Many of you may have noted my very negative opinion of the Wuhan virus
lockdowns right from the start of the current debacle. This opinion has not
changed but on the other hand I believe now that the Covid pandemic may be
the last pandemic where lockdowns were a bad idea.

What has changed last year is the wide implementation of mRNA vaccines.
While the technology existed previously, the Wuhan virus crisis catalyzed
the creation of massive production capacity and led to the elimination of
some of the bureaucratic obstacles to fast mass deployment of new vaccines.
As a result it should be possible to develop and mass-deploy vaccines for
almost any new infectious agent within months of it being sequenced. With
continued refinement of the process it might be possible to produce
vaccines without the need for formal clinical testing and have them
deployed in 1 - 2 weeks after an outbreak, including mass vaccinations in
initial outbreak areas, potentially preventing worldwide spread.

This is a completely new situation. mRNA vaccines are so much easier to
develop and produce that there is a qualitative difference in their
potential impact. Where classical methods are so slow that vaccines
inevitably were too little too late, mRNA vaccines could make a major
difference early on.

This means that true social distancing for a short time (not the laughable
6 foot distancing and not the laughable masking mandates) could very well
tide the vulnerable population over until a vaccine is available.

Again, this is a completely new situation. Since effective social
distancing (which is the one health policy intervention that immediately
stops disease spread) is very costly and the cost is roughly proportional
to the duration of distancing, the cost/benefit ratio of social distancing
quickly becomes unfavorable as time goes by. In previous pandemics
society-wide social distancing would have a uniformly negative net effect
since it could only shift morbidity and mortality in time but not prevent
it. If there is no cure on the horizon, it does not make sense to
quarantine yourself, unless you hope to make it through until herd immunity
is reached - but of course if everybody is in quarantine, there is no herd
immunity and you would have to quarantine forever, or until you run out of
food. Clearly not a viable social strategy for survival.

However, if a cure is more or less guaranteed in a few weeks, the calculus
is different - you would gain net benefit from quarantine despite its
financial and social cost. Government-imposed lockdowns would be still
wrong and immoral but individual quarantine would make great sense.

So maybe in the near future we will have routine brief mass-quarantines as
the rational response to new pathogens.

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