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The Economic Costs of Containing a Pandemic

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has caused one of the most serious social and economic losses to countries around the world since the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 (during World War I). It has resulted in enormous economic as well as social costs, such as increased deaths from the spread of infection in a region. This is because public regulations imposed by national and local governments to deter the spread of infection inevitably involves a deliberate suppression of the level of economic activity. Given this trade-off between economic activity and epidemic prevention, governments should execute public interventions to minimize social and economic losses from the pandemic. A major problem regarding the resultant economic losses is that it unequally impacts certain strata of the society. This raises an important question on how such economic losses should be shared equally across the society. At the same time, there is some antipathy towards economic compensation by means of public debt, which is likely to increase economic burden in the future. However, as Paul Samuelson once argued, much of the burden, whether due to public debt or otherwise, can only be borne by the present generation, and not by future generations.