Covid-19: putting a dollar figure on human and cat life

An interesting debate has opened up about whether the cure for the Covid-19 outbreak is worse than the problem itself. The question asked is whether the cure, which is essentially the economic shutdown of a country and for citizens to self-isolate, causes in the long term more deaths than the virus itself if only minor precautions were taken.

Coronavirus balancing act
Coronavirus balancing act. Pic: public domain. Words: PoC.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

In the title I have added the lives of cats to this equation. I have done this because, as usual, all the newspapers naturally discuss human lives while the domestic cat and dog are shunted into the background as almost irrelevant. Dogs are as important as cats and I must include all companion animals.

UK

Research carried out the University of Bristol, UK, concluded that if a country’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) falls by 6.4% because becuse of the lockdown of a country, the cure will be more costly in terms of lives than the virus. They calculate that there would be 400,000 deaths in the UK if nothing was done to prevent the spread of the disease. But if you reduce GDP per head by a substantial amount there comes a point when you start reducing life expectancy considerably, says Prof Philip Thomas of the University. And this translates to deaths.

It is apparently possible to link lifespan with GDP. It is highly likely that in the UK, GDP will shrink by considerably more than 6.4%. In the UK, lockdown is virtually complete. The basic instruction is that everybody should stay at home unless they have to go out. However, the link between mortality and the economy is clear but it is not straightforward. And the link between increased GDP and longevity flattens out the richer country gets. So there are complications to the equation.

USA

In the US, most of us now know that President Trump believes that the cure of lockdown could quite easily be worse than the problems caused by the virus itself. On that basis he is trying to drive a consensus towards going back to normal by Easter. This could lead to the country being an incubator for the disease. The World Health Organisation suggested that the United States could become the next centre of the coronavirus pandemic based upon what the president is suggesting.

There are, however, some Republicans who are going along with him. One of them is Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas who has said that he would be prepared to risk death so that the United States could return to normal. Mr Patrick is 69 years of age and the grandfather of six. He thinks it’s a fair exchange to take the risk because he does not want the whole country to be sacrificed.

Our companion animals

It is disconcerting to realise that our companion animals are viewed as second-class citizens. It is said (although even the experts are not 100% sure) that they cannot contract Covid-19 and therefore can’t transmit it but there is a big questionmark as to whether veterinary clinics are essential businesses and whether veterinarians are key workers under the strict regime imposed by countries during the coronavirus crisis. If veterinarians cannot function normally in providing treatment to companion animal patients then this may cause loss of life not through the virus but through other illnesses for which they’re being treated. Have things changed? Does someone have an update?

However, it is quite clear that veterinarians engaged in farm work are obviously essential workers and therefore this discussion does not touch upon them.

Conclusion

The discussion about the cure costing more lives than the virus in the longterm is a vaild one. There are two major problems with it: (1) it is a discussion which puts a dollar figure on human life. This is politically incorrect and unacceptable to the majority and (2) we don’t have certain and clear data to work out the equation in order to make the decision. Therefore Trump’s argument does not quite work at present.

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