‘There have been as many plagues in history as there have been wars,’ wrote Albert Camus in The Plague, ‘yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.’ So it was this time. The arrival of a new coronavirus blindsided governments of most advanced nations as they reached for a tool that few had ever really considered before: lockdown. It all happened too fast for a proper discussion about the implications. The biggest question — the extent to which lockdown will claim lives as well as save them — is one you can ask at a global level.
We know the national costs. In the United States, there is joblessness on a scale not seen since the Great Depression, with more than 33 million unemployed. The Bank of England forecasts the UK economy will fall by 14 per cent this year — the steepest decline since 1706.