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Health and Economic Risk: Social Distancing as a Health Risk Management Tool

Social distancing measures propagated by health experts and belatedly by governments worldwide as a means of health risk minimizer, are yet to unfold their full impact on health risk management caused by the COVID-19. Nevertheless, social distancing poses a high risk to the economic and social life of affected communities globally. Fears of a global economic slowdown have dominated discussions amongst the public, experts of different disciplines, politicians, entrepreneurs, and others.

What is at stake while implementing social distancing?

Social distancing has slowed income generation among the majority of economic sectors. Consumption and production of certain goods have dropped to the lowest level, while online business models have prevailed to be a necessity for entrepreneurs and employees. Minimal social interaction reduced to digital communication via Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and other social media outlets. The minimum of 1.5 Meters of social distance between individuals in public space puts the society on a psychological test. This amount of economic, social, and psychological pressure seems to cause an explosion of both optimism and pessimism toward the social distancing measures. Differences in reactions are visible amongst different interest groups. Some interest groups are also pleading for ease of social distancing measures. Contrary to those special interest groups, health experts, practitioners, nurses, caretakers, and the health sector, in general, pleads for tight implementation of the social distancing measures.

Fears about the macroeconomic implications additionally add more pressure to efforts of minimizing unemployment, inflation, and global trade dependencies while maximizing investment, private, as well as public spending. Several pandemic-simulation-models oppose the ideal of seeking a quick opening of economic and social life at the cost of unprecedented health risks.

What is riskier? Health Risk or Economic Risk?

Before making a judgment on whether the health risk or economic risk is riskier than the other, we should seek prudent wisdom. Decisions to be made will need high ethical standards and a balance between exposure to health risk and economic risk. Measures proposed to open economic and social life around the world are disregarding the current health optimization goals at the cost of uncertain short-term economic and social gains. The long-term economic and social impact should be the driving force behind any adjustments to the social distancing measures. Nevertheless, society should not neglect the importance of a democratic decision mechanism. Acceptance of social distancing may depend on the decision mechanisms put in place to safeguard the social, economic, political, technological, ethical, and ecological interests of all members of the society.

We are in a learning process of how globalization works and could work.

The global lockdown of borders, trade, tourism, and mobility of people, reveals the vulnerability of our conjoint societies in different aspects. Dependencies on global supply chains, consumption, and mobility have become visible. Large developed economies depending on emerging economies to facilitate their health centers with respiratory machines. Member countries of the European Union closing their borders amid the Corona-Pandemic, which is contrary to the Schengen treaty of 14 June 1985. Developed countries chartered airlines to bring back their citizens from emerging and developing countries. These issues, among many, pose global risks to world democracy, if not dealt with on due time. After the pandemic, the world will have a lot to repair, adjust, and negotiate. Does a global democracy exist?

Economic Policy Adjustments in Germany and in the USA amid Coronavirus-Pandemic and Corona-Crisis

How are Governments courageously dealing with the Coronavirus-Pandemic and the Corona-Crisis? Worldwide politicians are reacting very differently. Reactions to the pandemic have now become a war between optimism and pessimism. While some politicians realize how serious the current health crisis will be, others are busy procrastinating about an optimistic future. Early birds catch the worm and can navigate through the health crisis, taking leadership on flattening the pandemic spread of the Coronavirus. Optimists want to end the economic shutdown and go back to business as usual. Despite the facts: which responsibilities and consequences will a misinterpretation of the health crisis have on the economies? Healthy cows give more milk than sick cows.

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Which solutions to current health and future economic shocks are being proposed by politicians? 

Globally, economies have embarked on unprecedented economic policy adjustments. The Federal Republic of Germany and The United States of America (USA) have passed their economic stimulus packages. Any huge economic policy adjustments seek to alleviate or eliminate the impact of the Coronavirus-Pandemics and the subsequent potential economic risks of the Corona-Crisis in Germany and the USA, although this crisis has a global scope.

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Noting the sequence as well as the simultaneousness of events is the first important issue. The global health shock such as the Coronavirus-Pandemic should first be contained using adequate health measures. Therefore, the total shutdown of the social and economic interactions is unavoidable to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease. After health recovery has reached the necessary threshold, the politicians should start focusing on the economic shock or what we now call the Corona-Crisis. Pessimists of the economic shutdown are full of the optimism of opening the economy to economic and social activities, but they playing with pandemic fire. No genuine tradeoff between health risk and economic risk would maximize the welfare of the society while facing current facts.

Global policy versus national policy

The Coronavirus remains a global pandemic that demands a globally coordinated response of all economies. A pandemic never abides by the politicians’ timeline of decision-making. Neither does the Health crisis wait for dispute resolution about the superiority of global health policy and national health policies of nations. Instead, the pandemic would continue to ravage the world population, if poorly managed.

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The exponential rise of the Coronavirus infections around the globe has revealed how vulnerable the health systems, even in most developed G7 countries, have become. The competition of systems has begun. Each nation evaluating the effectiveness of the political response of other nations. Does it help when the USA compares itself with China, Germany, Spain, and Italien? China’s health system is not the same as in the USA. The non-ignorable reality is that a nation cannot entirely combat global Coronavirus-Pandemic only with its national policies. Economies need to cooperate with the global community to find a common goal. Surely, globalization is an opportunity and a threat. Globalization requires a diversity of strategies to utilize the benefits and to curb the losses.

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Federalism, Devolution of Power and Competition of Economic Systems

The high competition between different levels of government could interrupt the management of both the economic and health crisis. At the lower levels of governments, local authorities, starting with the mayors in cities in lower levels of local governments and governors in federal states are overpressured to find quick solutions to a quick-spreading pandemics. Higher levels of government, heads of states and government (presidents, prime ministers, monarchs) and the like, are overwhelmed by the events caused by the Corona-Pandemic due to belated attention to facts.

Who is responsible for implementing the policies? Facing the challenge to come up with solutions to the pandemic, the world leaders in all levels of government have been engaging in a war of blame and facts. Blaming each other of responsibility and communication problems reveal the unpreparedness.

Who should and must do what? Federal governments blaming state governments and vise versa. Healthy conflict is allowed to gauge ideas. All levels of government should harmoniously work together. Judicial functions, as well as legislative functions of government, should also be protected. By doing diligent deeds and public service, the pandemic should not harm the representation of the people.

Market Economy System Versus Social Market System

No doubt, the political leadership globally is at the crossroad between the tradeoff between health and economics. Both nations, Germany and The USA, have federal government systems with elected state governments in a power-sharing system. On the one side, the German economic system applies the social market order, which combines the allocative market system with a redistributive social system. Contrary to that, the market economy system is the American way of life. To capture the difference, answer the following questions. What happened to ObamaCare in the USA? What could have happened to ObamaCare in Europe? The differences in political and economic systems may explain the difference in the enacted economic policy adjustments.

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Synergy between Health and Economics: Oil-Price-Crash or Corona-Crash

Health shocks can also cause economic shocks (ceteris-paribus). The coronavirus pandemic is one of the health shocks that might unravel another global economic shock. Why is that the case? Fact number one, health is a basic human need. Consequently, the satisfaction the health needs requires human decision-making in all economies. Decision-makers face the challenge of managing the synergies between health and economics amid a health shock. How is the Scenario? Simultaneously, economic shocks unveil themselves amid health shocks as the pattern of decision-making changes with time. The time-lagged impact of change in decision-making is revealed through market reactions and is observable. Markets not only react to consumer choice and entrepreneurial decisions but also react to government decisions.

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Macroeconomic objectives of Economic Policy

All macroeconomic objectives could be affected by health and economic shocks. The potential reactions of markets are; the increase in market price volatility, the demand and supply shocks, among others. Economists of different schools of thought may differ in their economic forecasts, but the assumptions of any approach should be tested and empirically evident. The objective of the scientific approach should be to explain the global economic impact of the coronavirus. In the coming days, we will have the chance to observe; how strong or weak the global impact of the health and economic shocks will be in different economies around the world.

What is Health Economics?

Health Economics is the scientific branch of economics that deals with healthcare provision (supply) and healthcare utilization (demand) and how society makes coordination choices to meet the healthcare needs of its population. Economics as behavioral science influences health economics as a subbranch through the contribution of economic thought to healthcare issues. For example, we may see the solution to the following question: what are the most important behavioral choices of society that would help find the first-best allocation of healthcare goods and services in a world of scarce resources. The Coronavirus-Pandemic is the current health issue that is stress-testing our healthcare systems on a global scale. How we will deal with the pandemic depends on the behavioral incentives and contingencies to be resolved. In summary, health economics is the branch of economics that deals with the decision-making of how to allocate resources to health provision in economies. European countries have compulsory social welfare systems that coordinate health risks, while some economies have a voluntary system of insurance or no backup system in place.

How did the world economies react to the coronavirus pandemic outbreak?

It all started with the coronavirus pandemic outbreak somedays before 31.12.2019 in the Wuhan province in China. The first cases of the COVID-19 were reported to the World Health Organization by the Chinese government officials. Days after the World Health Organization reported the decease outbreak to the public on 05.01.2020. Globally, the reactions remained moderate and optimistic towards the ability to resolve the emerging disease. As reality became more prevalent and the cases wouldn’t be contained in China but spread around the world, the world Governments reactions as decision-makers were divergent and showed less global coordination. China put a whole province under quarantine, while most countries continued with life, as usual, giving out mild health alerts to the public.

Belated reaction of Governments

Maybe, the governments wanted to buy time to set up contingency plans, consult with experts on how to manage the unavoidable risks. The belated plan of actions by governments might have accelerated the spread of the coronavirus.

Economic slowdown, hoard purchases and travel bans

Simultaneously, the staggering impact of economic activities due to production stops in China channeled a global slowdown on the delivery of goods, services and the global supply (value) chain. The imposed travel bans and quarantines could heavily hurt the mobility of the people, the global flow of migration and tourism around some hotspots. Public life (e.g. traveling, local transport, retailing, etc.) in affected regions had been slowed down due to quarantines imposed by Governments, leading to hoarding behavior, the closing of industries and production, travel bans and other limitations to public life.

Global oil crash or Corona-Crash in Financial Markets

As expected, the impact was still to become visible in public life. The economic pressure has slowly become visible through reactions in financial markets. Financial markets are volatile markets, which adjust their valuation of assets in very short periods.

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The oil-price-crash on 09.03.2020 agitated the global financial markets three months down the path. The reason for the price downfall was caused by the OPEC negotiations, which ended without a compromise. The over-production of oil, coupled with low demand for oil, led to the downfall of the oil price in the stock exchanges around the world.

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Financial Markets adjust to Corona-Crisis

The corona health crisis continued to have an impact on the global financial markets, with global indices like DAX30 falling from above 13500 points in mid-February 2020 to below 11000 Points on Monday, 09.03.2020, a loss of more than 21%. Similar negative trends of indices were observed in other financial markets.

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