Strict lockdowns like the restrictions put into place in China — when the coronavirus pandemic hit — are better for economies than longer, more moderate closures like the United States and many European countries have taken, a new international study suggests.
Shorter but stricter lockdowns don’t hit businesses as hard, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal Nature Human Behavior. Businesses can weather a short, extreme shutdown but run out of supplies and reserves as time goes on.
And if the pandemic returns, a second round of lockdowns will really hurt economies, the team led by economist Dabo Guan from Tsinghua University in China found.
“While predicting the true cost of lockdowns is not possible at this stage, our research suggests that shorter, stricter lockdowns minimize the impact on supply chains, while gradually easing restrictions over the course of a year may also be less disruptive than a swift lifting of restrictions followed by another lockdown,” Guan said in a statement.
The team simulated three kinds of lockdown: a strict lockdown in which 80% of travel and labor ceases, similar to what China did; a more moderate lockdown with a 60% reduction in work and travel, similar to what the US did; plus a third, lighter lockdown with 40% reductions.
A gradual easing of the restrictions over a year would minimize damage to the global supply chain, they said. But if the virus resurged in the fall, forcing a second round of restrictions, costs to the economy would worsen by one-third.
“Our analysis quantifies the global economic benefits of robust public health responses and suggests that economic justifications to re-open businesses could backfire if they result in another round of lockdowns,” said Steve Davis of the University of California Irvine, who took part in the study.
Things will be even worse if countries stagger a second round of closures and restrictions instead of coordinating them if a second global lockdown occurs. A coordinated global lockdown would raise costs by 33%, but if countries just move on their own, costs will rise by 57%, the model predicts.