How long does the lockdown have to last?

Article Annemeike Tan

In the Netherlands and surrounding countries, the lockdown is being released gradually, but each country does so in a different way. The various governments are struggling to decide whether and when to end the lockdown. Positions differ, from those who argue for a resumption of economic activity to those who argue for a continuation of the lockdown. Tilburg Professor of Econometrics Peter Kort, together with colleagues from other universities, has conducted research into which policy works best, in terms of consequences both for the economy and for health. His initial findings are presented in the paper “How Long Should the COVID-19 Lockdown Continue?” Four questions to Peter Kort.

1. What exactly did you study?

Using a relatively simple optimal control model, we examined the various policy choices, taking into account both economic and health aspects and paying particular attention to the situation when the need for care exceeds hospital capacity.

2. What did you find out?

The main conclusion of the study is that very different lockdown policy rules can be derived from very similar values and can perform just as well if economic and health interests are taken into account in a broad sense. So governments that initially appear to be incompatible because they implemented completely different policies may be much more similar in their values, objectives, and understanding of the epidemic than is generally assumed.

3. What does that mean for Dutch policy, for example?

This study shows that no conclusions can be drawn at this stage as to which policy is the best. Science is still under development. Recently, for example, scientific knowledge about the total number of infected people has shifted in relation to the number of people known to be infected, as a result of which there has also been a shift in the model used to determine the best policy. All governments should be open-minded about the range of possible lockdown policy measures and an ever better understanding of the epidemic.

As different as policies may be, they are often based on the same values.

4. What is a human life worth? Can you determine that economically? And is that desirable?

The value of a human life is a philosophical concept that reflects deep values on which not everyone agrees. That is the reason why we carry out and present our analysis in a way that shows how conclusions vary for different observers with different values, and why the emphasis is on the qualitative nature of the analysis and not on findings that depend on a specific value. We try to enable everyone to enrich his/her understanding of this difficult dilemma about how long a lockdown should last, without favoring one opinion over another. It is very difficult to find a balance between life and livelihood, health, and well-being, and it is to be expected that, amidst the wide variety of people, values will differ between people. This will result in different people favoring different policies. But a central message of this study is that even when people seem to be very different because they prefer different policies, they may have more in common than they think. We hope that this type of work can help people communicate more effectively and find common ground as they work together to meet this big challenge.


Read the paper “How Long Should the COVID-19 Lockdown Continue?”



The 'New Common'

The corona crisis has compounded major societal challenges. Tilburg University shares knowledge and insights to reshape our society. We are happy to discuss this New Common.