December 2, 2020 11:47 PM

Can a lockdown save Christmas, do the French have the right idea?

Case numbers are rising again in Europe and North America. The vaccine Trump promised has yet to surface, and setbacks have slowed the process of developing one to a crawl. It is looking like one of the worst holiday seasons in history for millions. Some governments are taking the drastic step of sending their people back into lockdown, with the goal of being able to reopen for Christmas.

/ Published 1 month ago

Are France-style lockdowns ahead of Christmas what we need to save the economy?
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Ontario’s COVID-19 case numbers are climbing daily. Toronto has already enacted partial lockdown for many businesses at high risk of transmission, and medical services are bracing themselves for a surge in patients. Between the mental health toll, and the departed or isolated loved ones, the Christmas holiday season is looking grim indeed.

But we are not alone facing the pandemic. Across the globe, countries are struggling with the new reality of life in the pandemic, and each is choosing to fight it in their own way.  Some countries, in an effort to ‘save’ the holiday season, are turning to full or partial lockdowns. Should Canada emulate them?

How Macron thinks the French lockdown can save Christmas

Wednesday night, the French people tuned in to their televisions and radios to watch or listen to Emmanuel Macron deliver a somber 20-minute speech. In it he outlined the new lockdown measures going into effect at the end of the week, though he spent more time reminding the people why it was important, and what measures they could, but have not, chosen to take. The gist of the speech, however, was that the measure was necessary if there was to be hope for the holidays.

According to his TV announcement, the goal of the new measures is to slow and contain the virus enough so that it gets back under control by december. Draconian measures in the present to avoid them in the future. The economics are straightforward; the economy cannot afford either full blown pandemic, or missing out on the holiday spending. A partial lockdown now, could avoid both disastrous situations. 

Economists certainly seem to understand the purpose, even if many ordinary French citizens are not alone in expressing their frustrations, despite this second lockdown being significantly easier. 

Why this second French lockdown won’t be as severe

The French president’s proposal seems to be a compromise between a economic necessity and the healthcare imperative. Schools will remain open, though higher education is to be driven online. Most businesses without customer interaction are to stay open, though France’s world famous restaurants are bemoaning the new measures. 

The need for an ‘attestation’ will be restored, as will fines for failing to follow the appropriate procedures and, of course, all but the most austere and limited social gatherings are banned. So there is clearly some severe effort to curtail the spread, but with children allowed to go to school, and visits to senior care facilities allowed. It is scheduled to only last a month, and the harsh reality is the spread, and deaths, will continue. The question is just how much slower. 

On the other hand, the economy is not likely to tank as hard as it did the first time around. Either because investors know what to expect, or because business and economic activity have not been stifled as hard. Or most likely, a combination of the two. Clearly, the measure is built to keep the economy flowing—or at least hold steady—until the French can return to spend during the holidays. 

Will the economic leniency be sufficient to save the holiday season?

The new lockdown could be seen as a vital health care measure, but the leniencies built into it are indicative of the primary concern. If COVID-19 cases were the only concern, the lockdown would resemble the first, but with the economic impact in the short and long term at stake, a compromise was needed. 

Yet any compromise risks disappointing both sides. In this case with dramatic results. The French might emerge from the next lockdown to find case numbers still growing through school clusters and careless employees. Just as they might emerge deeper in debt and unable to invest in the holiday cheer, or worse, both. 

Nevertheless, doing something seemed to be necessary, and the French President has gambled on his lockdown achieving both. Whether Canada should tackle the health or the economic challenges first and foremost is up to the people and the government. But if they do decide to try to succeed against both, the French model could prove a worthwhile example—if we enact it before it is too late to save Christmas

(Featured Image by Yaroslav Danylchenko via Pexels)

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