The real cost of lockdown
The IMF has estimated the cost to the global economy of the pandemic to have been $28 trillion this year, while successive lockdowns are thought to have reduced economic activity in concerned economies by up to 33 percent.
The effects of the pandemic on business and trade, though unprecedented, are well documented. However, these studies overlook a more pertinent cost — that upon human life. Loneliness among the elderly, mental health issues for those confined to their homes, suicides and drastic changes to essential facets of childhood and education are among the tragic human costs of the past year.
Rises in the rate of infections around the world have had a direct impact upon economic growth, this is a given. Despite a surprisingly buoyant stock market driven by the growth of big tech, humanity is in rather dire straits.
On Saturday evening, the UK announced its most draconian lockdown to date, causing great consternation for many who are already exhausted with the draining consequences of COVID-19. This situation is the case in most of Europe, while internationally, the much-anticipated news of a vaccine has done little to mitigate the indisputable and continuing consequences of lockdowns. What was once the preserve of dictatorial governments that sought to limit the potential for the public to access information has become standard through arbitrarily imposed lockdowns, often drafted without public consultation or parliamentary and democratic debate.
As the elderly continue to suffer the effects of loneliness, the youth too have lost important facets of childhood development and education
Zaid M. Belbagi
Despite initial medical optimism about the recovery rate of the virus, the nightmarish reality that many of those infected display few or no symptoms continues to present itself in worrying statistics. This pushes governments to flatten curves of rapid spikes in infection through restrictions on movement and gathering.
The effects of these measures have been colossal. Almost half of those in isolation have reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus, compared to those not sheltering at 37 percent . The stress and worry brought on by the economic effects of the virus have also greatly affected mental health issues among the public. Uncertainty, chronic stress and economic difficulties have led to the development or exacerbation of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other psychiatric disorders in vulnerable populations, including individuals with pre-existing psychiatric disorders and people who reside in high COVID-19 prevalence areas.
In the US, which has had the worst experience of the virus, The Washington Post recently reported that one in four young people have suffered suicidal thoughts during the pandemic. Though suicide calls are only slightly higher than earlier years, there are other worrying signs, such as sharp increases in gun sales (guns are responsible for most successful suicides) and disproportional levels of anxiety and distress among ethnic minority groups, who have been hit hardest by the pandemic .
The closure of gyms and sports facilities has had a definite impact upon mental and physical health, too.
Substantial studies have been carried out to examine the consequences of closures, and 54 percent of survey respondents reported negative impacts on their mental health and well-being. With many sports facilities unable to ensure correct social distancing and surface cleaning to stop transmissions, they have been forced to close. The effect on physical health has not been recorded, however it has no doubt had an impact upon the surge in OHCAs (out-of-hospital cardiac arrests) and subsequent deaths that have been recorded since March.
This human reality has been corroborated by empirical fact, with a strong and statistically significant correlation drawn between the difference in cumulative incidences of OHCAs between 2020 and 2019 and COVID-19 incidences per 100,000 inhabitants . Given the renewed instances of lockdown, this reality, as well as the effect of rising obesity, will no doubt have a greater long-term public health impact than the virus ever will.
As the elderly continue to suffer the effects of loneliness, the youth too have lost important facets of childhood development and education.
According to UNESCO, a total of 1.725 billion students globally have been affected by the closure of schools and higher education institutions in response to the pandemic. It is understood that 192 countries have implemented nationwide closures, affecting about 99 percent of the world’s student population. Not only have curricula been limited and exams results standardized and based on averages, in-person instruction and tutoring has been replaced by remote learning. For children from deprived backgrounds, schools offered an escape and a safe environment in which to thrive.
Restricted to learning from home, many students have had their learning severely disrupted and in some cases stopped altogether. Kinaesthetic learning, the all-important learning style in which education takes place by students carrying out physical activities rather than listening to lectures or watching demonstrations, has been most affected. Only time will tell what impact the sustained absence of human interaction and group activity has upon a generation of young people already distracted from their studies by online diversions.
Many in the West had looked forward to the brief respite of the winter holiday season to reconnect with family members and friends from whom they have been separated for months. However, the recent announcement by the UK government echoes moves made internationally by governments eager to reduce the rate of infections. With public acquiescence and indeed acceptance of government policies beginning to wane, it is unclear how long lockdowns can remain in place. What is clear, however, is that the mental and physical effects of the past year will remain for far longer.
• Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid