Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Keeping the Young Locked Down is Like Making Pedestrians Wear Seat Belts

Thijs van Rens, associate professor at the University of Warwick and a research affiliate at the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London, has some valuable observations on the madness, in particular, of locking down the young. 

He has an op-ed out in the Financial Times.

Here are key snippets:

Coronavirus strongly discriminates against age. Of all Covid-19 deaths in the UK, about 90 per cent have been of people over 65 years old. Yet, the policy response to the pandemic relies on blanket restrictions, or those that vary by geography but not by age. This is illogical and suboptimal policymaking.

The distinct age-risk pattern of the virus, which was clear from the earliest Chinese data, led economists including Daron Acemoglu at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Andrew Oswald at Warwick university, to argue that a sensible policy should be fashioned around an age gradient. Let younger people run the economy and keep older people out of the way until a vaccine is discovered.


There seem to be two main arguments against releasing the young. It is said to be unfair to older people. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, described such a policy as “age-based apartheid”. However, it is the virus that is discriminating, not the government. Insisting on a blanket policy in the face of hugely different risks across age groups is like requiring pedestrians to wear seat belts.

The second argument is that it would be impossible to protect older people if young people were released because they live in the same homes. This is a valid concern, because the majority of transmissions happen within households or residential settings such as care homes. But how common are multigenerational households in Britain?

In my work with Professor Oswald, we found that multigenerational households are very rare in the UK. Studying data for 2.6m people, we found that 96 per cent of workers under the age of 35 do not live in the same home as someone over 65. Of workers of any age, 92 per cent do not live with someone aged 65 or over.

This means that if we were to release only young workers who do not share a home with older people, we could lift restrictions on the vast majority of the workforce. 

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