The Meadowbank Stadium was one of the shabbier landmarks in east Edinburgh until it was knocked down last year. A new one is rising from the ashes, looking like one of those massive cruise liners that appear in the Forth.

Work had been carrying on until last week when the Scottish Government ordered building sites to close. It didn’t seem to make sense. Building large structures no longer means large squads of hard-hat builders working on top of each other. Only a litter of people in yellow vests, who are essentially machine minders.

But risk of transmission is too great even here, according to Dr Catherine Calderwood, the Chief Medical Officer. I could point out that they haven’t closed building sites in Spain. But it really doesn’t help when journalists start contradicting medical experts without good reason. We can ask the questions, but sometimes we have to accept the answers.

So it has closed. That’s a lot of people out of work in Scotland’s largest sports and leisure project – not just here but in all the businesses that provide the materials, from steel to light fittings. It means loss of future revenues to Edinburgh council. Then there are all the self-employed trainers and instructors and service workers who won’t be working here.

That’s only the start. The people laid off will not be spending money on clothes, entertainment, household goods or travel because, if they haven’t actually lost their jobs, they will be on much reduced incomes. A dense network of financial relationships that extends far beyond this one project is being disrupted. And this is happening throughout the economy.

We need to understand what this means. Nouriel Roubini, one of the few economists who predicted the 2008 crash, says we are heading for a Great Depression. Morgan Stanley forecasts that GDP will fall by over 30% this year, which is greater than after 1929.

Unemployment rose by a record 3.3 million in America this week alone. In the UK, half a million people applied for Universal Credit and a million more will probably be added next week. Nothing like this has ever happened before, not even in wartime.

In the Second World War, the economy kept going because of the need to produce armaments. There was near-full employment and factories worked overtime. That war ended the last Great Depression; coronavirus could begin the next one.

People working in the public sector, the civil service, schools and universities think they don’t have to worry because their jobs are underwritten by the state. But their salaries and pensions are ultimately paid out of the taxes generated by the rest of us. The vast majority of the population work in the private sector, which is tanking.

Thousands of businesses are closing down. The Government may be helping with unprecedented income support and tax breaks. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced that the self-employed – most of them at least – will also receive 80% of their previous earnings.

But that won’t be in their pockets until June, and wage guarantees are little use if your job has disappeared. The hope is that the economy can be put in hibernation, but it doesn’t work that way. Firms rely on turnover to finance their overheads. Companies have debts, taxes, rents and other obligations.

Don’t expect the banks to suddenly become philanthropists. They will expect loans to be paid, even if they are deferred. HSBC increased its overdraft rates to 39% this month, though it is offering a buffer of £300 on interest payments. Many businesses will be unable to carry on servicing their debt.

Many debts are underwritten by house prices in a market which has just shut down. The financial system was already swimming in bad loans before coronavirus hit. Many big firms have only been kept alive by zero interest rates and cheap money. Large parts of this zombie economy will simply disappear, and there could be a tsunami of bankruptcies in their wake.

Last week, the EU rejected a plan to help states like Italy by issuing “coronabonds” backed by wealthier countries like Germany. This means a repeat of the sovereign debt crisis could pile on top of a global recession and a collapse of global trade. European countries are closing their borders. Just-in-time systems rely on free movement. This is causing problems for food distribution.

Governments can do a great deal by quantitative easing and pumping money into the system. But printing money in the absence of economic activity can only lead to one thing: inflation. We are already beginning to see this as prices begin to rise for necessities like food.

There will be complaints that supermarkets are making profits out of misery, but they have to pay the wholesalers, food processors and, ultimately, the farmers. Most of our perishable goods comes from countries like Spain where there is already a labour shortage. British farms rely on 60,000 seasonal workers, mostly from abroad, who can’t move because of the lockdown.

If Dr Calderwood is right and this lasts for a 12 months until a vaccine is developed, the impact will be unimaginable. She said last week that the Government could not risk restarting the economy prematurely in case there is a spike in infections. People have not yet acquired herd immunity.

But we simply cannot lock down indefinitely. Governments know that economic depressions also lead to significant loss of life – from suicides, ill health, domestic violence, crime, poor nutrition etc. Philip Thomas, professor of risk management at Bristol University, says that the cure could be worse than the disease if the economy does not recover within a matter of weeks.

Even relatively mild recessions have dramatic health effects. The financial crisis of 2008 led to a decade-long pause in life expectancy. The austerity policies that were applied by the LibDem-Conservative coalition in 2010 made things worse, of course, but the root of the problem was the collapse of Government tax revenues, which led to a ballooning deficit.

Public borrowing can only do

so much, and it has to be paid

back – as it was after the Second World War. That means people

have to be in work to pay the cost and there is no guarantee that, after this is over, people will be going back to work. Many businesses they worked for will have gone into liquidation.

The Government cannot replace the economy. Attempts by communist countries to abolish the market and replace it with central control, as in Soviet Russia, were a disaster. That led to rule by oppressive and corrupt bureaucrats, gross inefficiency, widespread shortages, and the degradation of the environment.

Jeremy Corbyn betrayed crass insensitivity last week when he said that he had been “proved right” by the coronavirus pandemic. It sounded like he was celebrating the collapse of the economy and the introduction of a pandemic police state.

Many of his supporters on social media have been doing exactly that: revelling in the collapse of capitalism in the naïve belief that socialism is being constructed in the wreckage. It isn’t. Mass unemployment, poverty and insecurity is not socialism.