At the moment the evidence suggests that the world is going to have to learn to live with the novel coronavirus for a good while longer, in which case it’s time to stop acting as though infection rates are the only matter of consequence.

Governments around the world are pinning their hopes on the rapid discovery of a vaccine to protect people from Covid-19, or at the very least an effective treatment for the disease. The life sciences industry has rallied to this challenge, with more than 270 treatments and nearly 200 vaccines estimated to be in development globally, led by AstraZeneca’s collaboration with the University of Oxford.

Yet a recent survey has indicated that nearly two-thirds of the world’s healthcare leaders expect the pandemic to last into the second half of next year, casting a fair bit of doubt on the Prime Minister’s plans for a “significant return to normality” in the UK by Christmas. Close to three-quarters of industry executives questioned by asset management firm Lazard believe a vaccine will not be widely available until that point.

So what to do in the meantime? Well, the status quo isn’t going to suffice.

Lockdown was a necessary evil which at this time appears to have brought the virus under control in Scotland, but it has come at a massive cost. It will be years before it’s possible to even guesstimate the total price to be paid.

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We have no way of knowing, for example, the damage that has been inflicted on the future workforce by the colossal upheavals in education. Irreparable harm has been done, and it will take a monumental effort to limit the fall-out. In that context, the Scottish Government’s belated commitment to re-open all schools on a full-time basis from next month is welcome.

Similarly, it will probably never really be possible to quantify the future cost of dealing with medical conditions other than Covid-19 that have been exacerbated while treatment resources were diverted to combat the pandemic. Lives have and will continue to be impaired and lost to myriad other ailments, and the families of these victims mourn just the same as those whose loved ones have died from the coronavirus.

There are some areas where we do have a preliminary gauge on the costs, and this makes for grim reading. In his summer statement earlier this month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a further £30 billion of Government support that included laudable efforts to get young people into work, sitting rather uncomfortably alongside his widely-ridiculed “Pizza Express voucher” – the Eat Out to Help Out scheme running for a total of 13 days in August.

Setting aside any cynical jibes as to whether the latter will make even the tiniest dent in the mountain of problems faced by the hospitality sector, there’s the sobering fact that direct public spending on the crisis is now hovering around the £190bn mark. That’s getting pretty close to the amount spent on running the NHS, schools and colleges across the whole of the UK for an entire year, and is driving the Government deficit to eye-watering levels.

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Even so, the financial outlook for too many firms on the ground remains bleak. The Government’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has predicted that the UK’s economic output for this year could be as much as 14.3 per cent lower than in 2019, the biggest drop in more than three centuries. The first quarter of 2020 was the worst in 41 years, with latest revisions showing that GDP shrank by 2.2% - and that included just nine days of lockdown. What’s more, that was barely a tenth of the size of the contraction that followed in the single month of April.

And now the tourism industry, which previously contributed in the region of £6 billion to Scotland’s GDP, has missed this summer’s window and faces what is effectively a year-long winter. Meanwhile, the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that make up more than 99% of private sector firms in this country have accumulated immense amounts of Government-backed debt just to stay afloat, and many will be in no position to repay when this comes due next year. Major retailers, airlines, manufacturers, hoteliers and more have already cut jobs by the tens of thousands, and that was while Government support schemes were still in place.

It’s the lost jobs that will most cripple efforts to get back to economic equilibrium, and tragically there are many more yet to come. A major survey released earlier this week by the University of Strathclyde’s Fraser of Allander Institute, carried out on behalf of legal firm Addleshaw Goddard, found that more than half of Scottish firms plan to make staff redundant once the UK Government’s furlough scheme comes to an end in October.

Of those employers who have used the job retention scheme, 12% said they expect a large number of job losses, while 43% expect to shed a “small” number of jobs. This is especially concerning for areas like Glasgow, Stirling, South Ayrshire, Perth and the Highlands, where a larger share of workers have been furloughed than in other Scottish local authorities.

This bleak take on the outlook for the 30% of the Scottish workforce currently furloughed is depressingly resonated by similar predictions from the OBR. Based on its “central” scenario, the budget watchdog has estimated that about 15% of the 9.4 million UK workers whose salaries are being paid by the Government will ultimately lose their jobs, taking the national unemployment rate to 11.9% in the fourth quarter of this year.

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That doesn’t include the so-called “discouraged” workers – those who have lost their jobs and are no longer looking for work, and thus don’t count as unemployed. It’s difficult to say how many of them are out there, but it’s a safe bet that the numbers are substantial.

That aside, the official unemployment rate of 4.3% in this country is already higher than the UK average of 3.9%. If the OBR’s central projection is correct, then a further 110,475 of the 736,500 Scots currently on furlough are also set to lose their jobs.

These are not just abstract numbers – they are people. Only those who have stood with their toes dangling over the cliff of personal doom, staring into the void of losing their home and a means of feeding the family, can genuinely appreciate the excruciating toll that unemployment takes. If you lined all of them in Scotland up right now shoulder to shoulder, they would fill the brink of Clo Mor more than three times over, with a similar-sized legion ready to take their place come the end of October.

Returning to the medical side of this crisis, it’s worth putting some figures into context. As of this past Wednesday, there were a total of 18,551 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in Scotland. Of those, 4,201 had died of confirmed or suspected Covid-19, according to National Records of Scotland.

More than 16,000 people died of cancer in Scotland in 2018. Cancer is not contagious, of course, whereas the coronavirus is highly communicable. Still, one can’t help but think that the enormous battle against Covid-19, if applied to combating cancer, could have brought the killer we’ve known of for hundreds of years to heel by now.

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Can you put a price on the value of a life? Well, like it or not, the NHS does. The health service uses what’s known as quality-adjusted life years (QALY) as a guideline for how much should be spent on medical treatments that on average yield benefits in life years saved. This effectively values one QALY at £30,000.

Using this metric, analysts and medical experts from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) have argued that it is “very far from clear” whether the tight lockdown restrictions in effect during the three months to the end of June were warranted, given the large economic costs. In a paper published earlier this month looking at the difficult trade-offs involved in picking the stringency and duration of lockdown measures, the authors concluded: “Treating possible future Covid-19 deaths as if little else matters is going to lead to bad outcomes.”

They say on the most favourable – though “far from likely” – set of assumptions about the effectiveness of restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, lockdown may have saved as many as 440,000 lives across the UK. Based on the QALY measure, that generates a maximum value of £132bn on potential years of life saved.

Meanwhile, their lowest plausible estimate of the cost of lockdown – which ignores all lost GDP beyond 2020, all medical side effects, and all future damage from the huge disruption to education – comes in at around £200bn. So on the most favourable assumptions about its effectiveness, and the most optimistic assessment of its cost, the price of lockdown is still high relative to its benefits.

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As co-author David Miles of Imperial College London says, it’s time for policymakers to “normalise” their view of Covid-19: “Weighing up costs and benefits of maintaining general and severe restrictions is necessary. That is how decisions over a wide range of public policy issues are made.

“Movement away from blanket restrictions that bring large, lasting and widespread costs, and towards measures targeted specifically at groups most at risk is now prudent. Such a policy should probably have been started before the end of June 2020.”

A treatment to combat a disease is of no use if it kills the patient, and when it comes to the pandemic, everyone is a victim of its financial malaise. If the economy withers on a vine choked by mass unemployment, any eventual triumph over the coronavirus threatens to be a Pyrrhic victory.