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Best response to pandemic is lifesaving, humanitarian

Published on 09/15 2020  Source: China Daily


It is patently clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected older people. Less robust physically, they are more prone to infection, and the symptoms arising have typically been more serious.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website that eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the US have been among people who are age 65 or older.

Though the situation is different in East Asia, reports from Australia, Canada, the US, the United Kingdom and the European Union detailed the devastating effects of COVID-19 infections within long-term care homes for older people.

There are arguments, both thoughtful and more radical, that what we should bear in mind is that COVID-19 deaths may well be displacing imminent deaths from other causes in older victims.

Daniel Bell, a professor at Shandong University, said in an interview in May, "The Confucian value of filial piety, or reverence for the elderly, helps (in part) to explain why East Asian countries took such strong measures to protect people from a disease that is particularly dangerous for the elderly".

It is evident that East Asian societies have done better than most other jurisdictions in containing the spread of COVID-19 infections. Bell contrasts this focus with the prioritizing of individual autonomy, which lies at the core of social comprehension across most advanced Western nations.

Earlier this month, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus took a strong position, objecting to the view that high COVID-19 death rates for the elderly were not a major concern.

"Accepting someone to die because of age is moral bankruptcy at its highest, and we should not allow our society to behave this way," he said.

At about the same time, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott offered an alternative view. According to the Guardian, Abbot said that "health dictatorships" were failing to consider the economic costs of the crisis and that some elderly COVID-19 patients should be allowed to die naturally.

Abbot stressed how costly it was to maintain certain lives, and he cast serious doubt on the wisdom of striving to achieve very low or zero transmission rates.

There is another facet of this aged COVID-19 victim reality that has received scant examination, due to its sensitivity, but still remains in plain sight. Abbott's view tends to draw attention to this aspect of the COVID-19 impact.

Some argue that outside of these long-term care homes, there are children and other relatives, many of whom will be entitled as beneficiaries upon the death of those living in such facilities. The assets of such a care home resident are often the primary source of payment of care home fees. In such cases, the longer the period of such care, the less will be the amount available to be inherited.

Unfortunately, the hard fact is that although most will not welcome the pandemic in any overt way, a number of beneficiaries may see an earlier death in these circumstances as not all bad news.

Meanwhile, China, the first active responder to the pandemic, struggled initially to cope with a disease never before encountered. Yet it learned remarkably quickly how best to respond.

The solution and focus swiftly moved to containing and controlling the spread of the virus-and to saving lives. This imposed conspicuously stringent personal controls and, as the Times in London recently reported, it initially "effectively stopped economic activity".

As the same report highlighted, these powerful disease control measures laid the foundation for an early normalization of production, with Chinese exports posting their strongest growth in 18 months in August.

China now has a firmly advancing economy. This is a post-COVID-19 outcome unmatched by any other major market.

China thus confirms that the best economic response to the epidemic is also the most lifesaving and humanitarian-provided governing circumstances and the quality of governance create this option and well-resourced, scientifically informed decisiveness prevails.

As it happens, the businesslike advice offered by Abbott indirectly confirms this. His sharp realism is distinctly influenced by the experience of jurisdictions where infection numbers have accelerated and sometimes soared, despite local efforts to test, contain and control.

Where such measures have not been robustly effective, as has regularly been the case, the pandemic has caused increasingly acute economic stress.

Abbot's remedial approach is a policy molded by a certain degree of locally shaped desperation.