The Uncertainty Mindset 2019-2020

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#19: Unreasonable measures

Vaughn Tan4th January 2021 at 4:46pm

This issue is me getting pretty worried about how almost no one seemed worried enough about coronavirus despite extraordinary case numbers coming out of Italy in the first week of March 2020.

I argued that there was no longer any reason to believe that coronavirus response should be “measured” and “sensible” in the conventional way. Responding conventionally to the virus by doing traditional cost-benefit analyses and using the risk mindset implied by those analyses was absurd given how the situation developed in the first week of March.

Unfortunately, governments across the developed West made the mistake of confusing risk and uncertainty in an uncertain situation and the dire consequences of that error are now clear (I wrote this summary on 31 December, 2020).

Any effective actions taken against coronavirus in the few days before the epidemic curve shoots upward in any country will always look unreasonable and disproportionate. By the time those actions look reasonable and appropriate, they will be too late. This is why extraordinary, even draconian, physical distancing measures should be put in place before case loads reach the numbers that would make such measures seem “appropriate.” This precautionary approach would be consistent with the uncertainty mindset.

With hindsight (I'm writing this on Dec 31, 2020), this was right on the money.

You can find it here: #19: Unreasonable measures