Debate over decision to shut down business gathers pace

Research examines effects of business closures on deaths from Covid-19

The streets of Dublin’s Temple Bar devoid of traffic and people during lockdown in April. Photograph: Alan Betson

As Government pauses on the full reopening of the economy, the debate about whether it was a good call to shut down business in the first place or an over-reaction is gathering pace – not least as medical experts become ever more vociferous about the chances, some say certainty, of a second wave.

Some early research is emerging. A team at the Rotterdam School of Management studied the effects of business closures on deaths from coronavirus in Italy. They found the move saved €9 billion in terms of lives saved.

The researchers determined that the shutdown saved more than 9,000 lives over a 23-day closure period.

Centralised decisions

And the €9 billion? That was worked out on the basis that the average life expectancy of those who died from coronavirus was another 13 years. Attributing a value of €80,000 per life year in line with existing norms for assessing things like medicine costs, they came up with a saving of close to €9.4 billion.


So shutting down the economy was a good thing then? Well, maybe.

Italy saw centralised decisions to close off certain local areas – about 17 per cent of the economy – rather than Ireland’s more general shutdown.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe estimates the cost of the virus to the Irish economy could be €60 billion. It could be higher, even without any second wave.

And the median age of coronavirus fatalities in Ireland was 82.Two-thirds were over the age of 80. The assumption that these victims would have lived another 13 years seems ambitious.

More research is needed to settle the issue but if a second wave does come, the research does at least provide some guidance.

Shuttering retail contributed most to the decline in mortality rates, it found, arguing for targeted rather than generalised business closures. But those hoping for no repeat of recent months will look to the finding that the study results “are consistent with a lower effectiveness of a second shutdown”.