With the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, it seems athletes are competing against a new rival: the coronavirus. Between infected athletes being unable to compete, canceled scrimmages, and the looming fear of the Olympics becoming a super-spreader, national precaution seems to be outpacing national pride.
And things will not be any easier when the athletes arrive in Tokyo, where the Japanese government has enacted numerous restrictions to address the pandemic.
To protect the athletes and its citizens, Japan has banned bars from serving alcohol, instituted an 8:00 pm curfew for most businesses, limited attendance for many of the events, and kept Olympic athletes and staff away from public contact. Foreign spectators are not allowed to attend the events.
Even though new cases are in decline over the past few weeks, Japan’s deep concern that the Indian variant of the coronavirus will spread across the country motivates its heavy-handed action. Other countries are taking even stronger approaches. Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, and parts of Portugal reinstituted lockdowns in major cities to prevent variant outbreaks.
Some believe the United States is poised for a “dangerous fall” as the delta variant becomes the dominant strain across the country. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb remarked the delta variant would be the “most serious virus” the unvaccinated will catch in their lifetime.
“The pandemic is not over” and the delta variant “changes the calculus,” Joel Werthein, a professor of bioinformatics and systems biology at the University of California at San Diego said.
How will the United States handle the increase in delta cases and the threat of other variants? We don’t know. But our greatest successes in battling the coronavirus have come from the market, not the government.
When the coronavirus first reached the United States in January 2020, arduous and confusing regulations prevented private laboratories from developing desperately needed coronavirus tests to diagnose patients. After removing most of these barriers in March 2020, national testing capacity increased from nearly seven thousand to over thirty-eight thousand tests performed per day in two weeks. By July, private laboratories were performing over two hundred thousand tests a day.
Efforts to treat the coronavirus were also led by the private sector, which pushed government agencies to let patients with severe infections try remdesivir. Aware of its promising clinical results, physicians and hospitals called on the Food and Drug Administration to give patients access to the then-experimental drug.
As patients receiving treatment were taken off ventilators and began recovering across the country, remdesivir became the standard of care for COVID-19. Today, it is the only approved treatment for the virus.
Markets have also served as the antidote to pandemic woes in the past. Research published in Contemporary Economic Policy finds economically freer countries recovered from the 1918 pandemic faster. Sadly, governments have not learned this lesson almost one hundred years later.
Between 1918 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Asian Flu pandemic of the 1950s claimed the lives of between 1.1 and 4 million people globally. As contagious as the coronavirus and equally harmful to children as its delta variant, the Asian Flu was considered the most devastating influenza pandemic since the Spanish Flu at the time.
With few exceptions, the U.S. response to the Asian Flu pandemic—including preventing disease spread, treating the sick, and distributing vaccines—was executed by private actors.
Remarkably, this approach resulted in “no serious disruption of community life” and only claimed the lives of about seventy thousand U.S. citizens. In comparison, Germany, which had about one-third of the population of the United States at the time, lost about thirty-thousand lives.
Most pandemics go through a second wave as the disease mutates. The coronavirus seems to be no exception. But panicking and calling on the government to act isn’t the way forward. History and our recent victories over the virus show us that markets remain our best bet. Let’s trust them to bring home the gold.
Raymond March is a research fellow and director of FDAReview.org at the Independent Institute, a faculty fellow at the Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise at North Dakota State University, and a contributor at Young Voices.