$6 million per life: Study calculates economic wreckage caused by US Covid-19 shutdowns

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With coronavirus lockdowns forcing businesses to shut their doors for months, a team of researchers has attempted to find out how many lives the restrictions saved in the United States and just how much economic damage was caused.

The sobering calculations found that the closures from the pandemic’s onset in March through to the rollbacks in May saved approximately 29,000 lives and came with a $169 billion price tag.

The number crunchers from HEC Paris business school and Bocconi University in Milan say this amounts to around $6 million per person.

During the period examined by the boffins, weekly applications for jobless aid shot up, with nearly 6.9 million filings in the week ended March 28. The unemployment rate also spiked dramatically to 14.7 percent in April from a historic low of 3.5 percent in February. 

Lockdown orders caused unprecedented disruptions to the US economy, raising questions about the government’s role in forcing people to alter their lifestyles in the name of public health.

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Opponents brand the measures an expensive attack on personal freedom, while supporters argue they’re needed to contain the spread of an out-of-control virus.

Using data from Johns Hopkins University and the US Census Bureau, the researchers concluded that the shutdowns cost about 0.8 percent of total US gross domestic product (GDP) and reduced the death toll in the period surveyed by around 25 percent.

The issue of how to tackle the spread of Covid-19 has re-emerged with surging case numbers, prompting many US states to clamp down on business activity once again.

Jean-Noel Barrot, a professor at HEC Paris and member of France’s National Assembly, said a new raft of restrictions may not be as effective in preventing deaths as it was earlier in the year but it will remain economically crippling.

“What we need to think of [are] contingency plans to avoid having to, so to speak, burn so much of our collective wealth in order to stay alive,” Barrot told AFP.

The latest statistics from Johns Hopkins University indicate that 257,991 people in the US have died from Covid-19 and a total of nearly 12.5 million people have contracted the illness.

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