What If You Were Prime Minister?

What would you do if you were in charge of the country? Hind sight is a wonderful thing, and 2020 was a year that none of us saw coming, but if you had—if somehow you had known about the pandemic—what would you have done?

This is not a political post (I regularly whack you over the head with my faith, so my politics I try to keep private) but in an unreal scenario, what would you do? What laws would you have put in place?

It’s not an easy role, because there are so many things to balance. The media is no help at all, because anyone can find an ‘expert’ to quote shocking headlines. For example, any health minister is going to focus on that aspect (because that’s what they’re paid to do) but often it’s not balanced by an economist’s view, or an education minister’s view.

How to solve the problem of Covid?

For example, in 2019 (before Covid was a thing) we could have seen a headline shouting (correctly) something like:

“15,000 people will die of flu unless we have a whole-country lockdown.”

Now, 15,000 people dying of flu is horrible, and happens fairly regularly, but we don’t generally lockdown the country because that fact needs to be balanced with children being educated and the economy. We could equally have a headline:

“Over 100 young people will die in motorcycle accidents this year unless we stop them driving.”

So, what would you do? I recently heard a report about a country that was choosing to vaccinate all the young people first, hence enabling them to continue with their education and social lives. The logic was that they were most likely to break the lockdown rules and thus spread the virus, so if they were vaccinated, the vulnerable would continue to shelter and the young wouldn’t be spreading the disease in the wider community. It also means that their country will not have lost a year of education, students will not have missed out on the experience of university, children will have the stability of school and clubs. Tough on the older people—but is it a good idea?

One fact worth considering as you make your decision is that we currently have about 8 million people aged 15-24 years. As the country pays for people on furlough, and extra aid for those who need help, we are building up a debt. At some point, that debt will have to be paid (because we have never paid off our deficit, let alone saved money for a pandemic). Who will pay? Those young people. We are borrowing from their future. My understanding is that from this age group of 8 million young people, there have been 56 deaths from Covid. Only 56. Compare that to the 100 deaths due to motorcycle accidents over the same period, and consider what you would do.

Before you make your decision, consider the hospitals. You can ignore all the people shouting that hospitals are empty—I know several people who work in hospitals, and they are not lying when they talk about being stretched to capacity and the stress of watching people suffer and die, not enough staff, services diverted from other health areas. There are buildings available, but not enough staff. So, while you make your decision, consider how you are going to stop the hospitals being over-whelmed—because do you want to live in a country where there is no medical care when you need it? Is there a way other than lockdown to ensure that hospitals cope? Looking forward, will you attract more people into the health service with higher salaries? Ah, but how will you pay for that?

Now consider the economy. There is not a magic pot of money that the government can draw from in times of national debt. Money that is given out to save businesses and to provide Covid tests and to buy vaccines, all has to be paid back. We are the ones who will be paying it back (and our children and grandchildren). If the country is in lockdown, then small businesses will be bankrupt. Even large businesses can only survive for so long, especially if they were already struggling (like some of the aviation companies). Would you give more money so they can survive the crisis (and increase the debt, which might mean higher taxes later thereby simply delaying the inevitable) or hope they can modify and find news forms of revenue? What will it do to the unemployment numbers? How long would you suspend the economy for the sake of the health service?

There are of course, many other issues, but I think it’s hard enough if we simply balance health, education, economy. At the moment, the world seems to be focussed on health. I am waiting for the headlines to switch to:

“Leading economist warns of huge recession in the wake of lockdown.”

I haven’t mentioned issues beyond individual countries. But if you’re going to be in charge, you need to also consider global policies. If you vaccinate your own citizens, then the virus will mutate in poorer countries and become vaccine-resistant which puts us all back to the start. Plus we rely on the global economy, so we cannot afford to let another country crash because it will impact us. So, would you vaccinate all your own country first, or would you ensure a vaccine was rolled out globally?

What, I wonder, would you do? I’m sure that we can all think of things we would have changed about the past—but the solution is not obvious. I for one have no intention of standing for office at the next election.

Hope you make good decisions in your own life this week.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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