Health vs. Economy in the response to the pandemic: what is the right balance? Op-Ed by Ala Tocarciuc

Personally, I think it's not fair to ask what we choose, Health or Economy in the pandemic? The question is: What is the right balance between health and the economy? And this question already contains part of the answer. We need both, and we need a stable balance in response to this pandemic…”

The first six months of the COVID-19 era in Moldova clearly demonstrated some things to us.

One is the severity and stubbornness of the virus. The virus is an unusual one.

It seems that we now know that it is transmitted well in hot weather and in cold weather.

We see that the mortality rate is 15 or 20 times higher than that of influenza.

We know that if you are senior, it can be a particularly dangerous disease.

Another thing learned is that political polarization can remove medical advice.

We naively thought that science would lead to decision-making and now it is clear that it didn't work out entirely.

Specialists are still trying to build relationships with officials to provide the best advice that science can offer. But everything is colored by the political situation now.

Health or Economy, what's worth more?

Even in the early days of the pandemic, there has been multiple debates about what is more important, health or the economy?

There were states that gave priority to the economy. These countries, although few in number, have not applied drastic restrictions, have not imposed quarantine in a desire not to harm the economy. But they did not neglect health and somehow kept the pandemic under control.

There were states that prioritized health to save lives. Most countries have done so, in fact, by applying restrictive measures to keep the virus under control. The economy has somehow been supported by compensatory measures.

There were also exceptions, with a hybrid approach. These countries applied short-term restrictions exclusively to empower health systems, then reopened everything. Their intention was to enable the economy to function, with full and sufficient state coverage of health needs.

In conclusion, we can say that each country has tried to strike a balance between health and the economy in its own way.

The consequences are already visible in most countries: the economic impact is negative in all countries affected by the pandemic and the virus doesn't give up  practically, in any of the countries.

The negative economic impact of COVID-19  has been felt worldwide, even in the small Pacific island of Palau,  which has been left without coronavirus. President Tommy Remengesau Jr. said last week at the UN that the pandemic is affecting the archipelago's economy and has put the country of about 18,000 people "in a level of isolation that we have not known for many, many years."

Palau struggles with disrupted supply chains for food and medicine, obtaining life-saving treatments for patients who used to travel to larger countries, as well as keeping families united, school students and working people.

"Private sector unemployment is approaching 50% and it will take years to recover what we lost in a few months," Remengesau said.

What does this case tell us about? It tells us about the fact, that the world's economies are interconnected and it is impossible to save the economy, even in the situation, when you have no case of COVID-19in the country.

More and more voices are now being heard in Europe, asking how can we balance health and economic needs in the worsening pandemic situation? If economies suffer anyway, what can we do to stop the decline and save lives?

Simple and universal answers are missing. Each country decides for itself what tactic it adopts.

If we look at Moldova, what is the tactic to choose?

In the six months of pandemic, lived so far, we have managed to learn a lot. But we have an even more complicated period ahead of us, with many non-performing loans, low budget incomes, bankrupted businesses, low remittances, and real unemployment on the rise.

And COVID-19 illnesses incidence will still increase much at least another year in advance. What tactics do we choose?

From the very beginning, my opinion was not to try to give preference to either the economy or health, because we also need the economy and health. So, we need a stable balance.

What would that mean? That would mean that everyone who can work and create added value would work every day. Those, who can work from home, will work remotely. Those, who has to come to the office or working place, will come to working place. But this means in all cases, obliging everyone to abide by the rules of protection of COVID-19. And these rules should be respected by all the carriers, by all the vendors, by all the barbers, by those who do sanitation, etc. When someone becomes ill, by chance, then be sure that they will be treated properly, in accordance with written rules.

Below is a short summary of actions collected from countries that have successfully achieved this balance between health and the economy.

On the health side it is required to be prepared to treat all those with COVID-19, regardless of form and severity of the disease. It is clear, that we lack infrastructure. So, it is a demand for investment in health care infrastructure at all levels.

On the health side still important testing, early detection of those contaminated and their isolation. The opinion, that tests are a waste of money, is a flawed one. A patient detected at the early stage allows the beginning of treatment earlier, at home and, respectively avoiding complications, supporting  savings from hospital costs.

Also on the health side, there is a demand for an increase in staff reward, which will ultimately stimulate consumption and,  indirectly will support the trade and other services. The adequate reward of doctors is a motivational tool and is one of the most available at the moment.

On the economic side, investments in infrastructure are required. Infrastructure can be roads, but there can also be hospitals or other important institutions now. Investments in infrastructure will create new jobs.

Also on the economic side, the problem of unemployment arises. From the experiences gained in many past pandemics, there is an increase in opportunities for women, driven by the increased needs of sick care staff. Multiple jobs can be, created and respectively, instead of unemployment wage of 2750 lei, a woman can be employed in hospital with an average salary of 5000 lei and support both, the health and economic systems.

Pandemics greatly influence big cities as a result of residents' migration to rural areas. The migration of towns people to villages has a stimulating effect for small agriculture and for consumption. Towns people migrated to villages, even for the short term are a stimulating factor, because they consume products from small rural households. They also bring a new culture to the villages.

What else can we do? It is very important to prepare for the agricultural year 2020-2021. Agriculture is not affected by pandemics in any country. So, we can fix ours.

We can also develop some areas that are still not affected by the pandemic, such as the IT industry, light industry, multiple services.

I personally think it is not fair to ask what we choose, Health or Economy in the pandemic? The question is: What is the right balance between health and the economy? And this question already contains part of the answer. We need both, and we need a stable balance in response to this pandemic.

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