Dusseldorf, Washington As so often with Donald Trump, it all started with a tweet. On Sunday evening, just before midnight in the US East Coast, the President of the United States sent his message to the world in capital letters: “We cannot make the therapy worse than the problem itself.”
In mid-March, Trump announced a 15-day period of restrictions: Americans should refrain from meeting in groups for a good two weeks. Schools, universities and museums should remain closed, the workplace should be relocated to the home office if possible, and restaurants should only offer takeaway or delivery food.
They are only recommendations, but the country has largely followed them. The governors of many states have passed even stricter regulations: Currently, 16 of the 50 US states have strict exit restrictions that only allow you to leave your own four walls for your most important basic needs.
The federal government’s 15-day period expires at the beginning of next week. But in the middle of this period, Trump seems to be losing patience with the economic devastation that is causing the curfews in the United States. “We have to get the country back to work,” Trump told Fox News on Tuesday. “This remedy is worse than the problem. Again, people, a lot of people – more people in my opinion – will die if we keep this happening. “
And not only in the White House, but throughout the western world, a debate about the proportionality of corona interventions is beginning. Is there really no alternative to the strategy of freezing social and economic life?
It is a delicate debate. Because it’s about human life. In this case, that of older and previously ill citizens, for whom infection with the coronavirus is particularly often fatal. A balance must be struck between protecting everyone’s health and protecting society from the worst recession since the end of the Second World War.
So far, only individuals in Germany have made such considerations. For example, the private equity entrepreneur and former head of Germany at the investment bank Goldman Sachs, Alexander Dibelius, who said in an interview with the Handelsblatt: “It is correct that ten percent of the – really threatened – population is spared, 90 percent including the entire economy is extremely be hindered, with the potentially dramatic consequence that the basis of our general prosperity erodes massively and sustainably? ”The chairman of the Springer Group, Mathias Döpfner, also made a contribution to the in-house“ world ”with reference to the corona measures : “I have doubts.”
The Ifo Institute clarified the economic dimensions at the beginning of the week. The Munich-based economic researchers believe a slump in the German economy of up to 20 percent this year is possible. Ifo President Clemens Fuest believes that the costs of this crisis “are likely to exceed everything known in Germany from economic crises or natural disasters in recent decades”. The aim was to design a gradual exit from the shutdown in such a way that the fight against pandemics would be affected as little as possible.
Even the most powerful politician in the western world has to do this. Trump now attends daily the briefings of his corona task force, which is broadcast across the US by major news channels.
The US President used this forum on Monday evening, around 18 hours after his tweet, to let the nation share his thoughts. “If it were up to the doctors, they would say: keep everything closed, close the whole world and leave it closed. We can’t do that, ”Trump said into the television cameras. Then he announced: “We will reopen our country within a shorter time frame than a few months.”
According to Trump, the US government is considering relaxing the anti-corona recommendations in some less affected parts of the country, but maintaining or even tightening them in the “hotspots” of the crisis. Another White House consideration that the Washington Post reports: The exit restrictions could initially be relaxed for people under 40 or under 50 who are rarely fatal to Corona disease.
Trump’s comments came at the end of a day when, for the first time, more than 100 people in the United States died from the effects of the corona virus and the number of cases rose again. Against this background, according to several US media reports, Trump faced conflicting demands from his advisors.
The White House medical corona crisis team is pushing to maintain or even tighten the restrictions. The US President’s economic advisors, on the other hand, increasingly impatiently demanded a perspective when the US economy could return to normal mode.
With this impatience, they apparently were heard by a president who had to fight for re-election in November and whose core message was always: Under my leadership, the United States is economically successful.
For Trump, the most important measure of this success has always been the rising share prices on Wall Street. Based on this, his comments had the desired effect: The Dow Jones opened six percent on Tuesday, but mainly driven by the hope that Congress would finally adopt a huge stimulus package worth just under $ 2 trillion for the US economy.
What is a life worth?
How realistic are Trump’s considerations in the face of a pandemic that is expanding at an unstoppable pace in the United States? The epicenter of the corona crisis in the United States is New York. According to the Corona coordinator in the White House, Deborah Brix, a blood alcohol percentage is now infected there – five times as many as the country’s average.
The number of infected people in New York doubles every three days. Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo is firmly opposed to Trump’s trade-off between economic and medical interests. “It is a wrong alternative to put public health against the restart of the economy,” said Cuomo at CNN. “And when you open this alternative, you have to choose public health, because you can’t measure the value of a human life with money.”
That may sound correct from an ethical point of view. In practice, however, human life is very much assigned a material value. For example, when considering how much effort is being taken to avoid accidents.
Appropriate cost-benefit analyzes usually estimate a value of around nine million dollars per life saved in the USA. From this perspective, the planned rescue package for the US economy would have the equivalent of around 200,000 lives. That sounds cynical – and the main question is whether the trade-off actually exists in this form.
Most medical professionals in the United States are horrified by Trump’s considerations. They warn that if the restrictions are loosened too soon, the virus will spread again rapidly – with fatal consequences: hospitals would quickly become overloaded and the number of victims in the United States alone would reach hundreds of thousands.
The Italy scenario threatens
Then, at the latest, the restrictions on public life would have to be tightened again. The Italy scenario threatens: immeasurable suffering and simultaneous economic standstill.
Trump points to South Korea as a positive counterexample, where, after the Corona outbreak, it was possible to normalize life again within a few weeks. But the prerequisites for this were the comprehensive corona tests in South Korea.
They have made it possible to record the exact spread of the virus in the country and isolate the infected from the rest of the population. Trump’s hotspot idea could also work with such comprehensive tests. So far, however, the following also applies in the USA: only those who already have symptoms are tested.
In the end, it is the state governors who decide on the anti-corona measures in their area. And there is little inclination to lift the restrictions, on the contrary: The state of Florida has just issued a 14-day forced quarantine for everyone traveling from the Corona hotspot New York to the popular holiday destination in the southern United States.
More: Trump should leave the corona crisis to the experts: As his country’s self-proclaimed virus expert, the US President has so far mainly caused confusion.