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It's time for Scott Morrison to play God

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Cartoon by Bruce Keogh / keoghcartoons.com.au

As we begin the process of reopening the economy, it's important to factor in the potential cost of human life it could cause, writes Bruce Keogh.

WHAT IS ONE human life worth? What is more important, human life or economics? Prime Minister Scott Morrison and world leaders face these and more dilemmas. They are required to “play God” in matters of life or death.

Morrison has declared Australia has flattened the curve of coronavirus infections and the time is right to flatten the curve of unemployment.  

This is a misguided analogy. “Back to work” is his new mantra and with that comes the start of reopening society.

This is good news for millions of Australians, but it begs the question that would not have escaped Morrison: at what cost of life? This question is the proverbial elephant in the room.

The flattened curve is a direct result of restrictions and so it is dangerous to infer by analogy that with getting back to work, the curve will remain flat. Australia is far from being out of the woods. The risk associated with undiagnosed asymptomatic cases lingers. The risk of complacency in work and social behaviour is very real. The risk of a second wave, as happened when Singapore eased restrictions, is also very real.

In the absence of a cure, it is widely touted that the virus can be managed as Australia attempts to get back to “normal”. Attempting to manage the mystery that is COVID-19 equates to punching at shadows.

The economic stakes are high for the Morrison Government. Treasury estimates the mass closure of businesses and activities, designed to stop the spread of coronavirus, is costing the economy a crippling $4 billion a week. The business world is haemorrhaging, but panic-driven curative measures to stop the bleeding could prove fatal if a premature reopening of business led to a second wave of infections, with reimposed lockdowns.

Business must get back on its feet as soon as possible for national economic reconstruction and social psychological relief from distress and trauma caused by redundancy, bankruptcy, fear of mortgage foreclosure, tenant eviction and much more. And there is the increased likelihood of suicide to consider. For millions of Australians, these are the human costs of a paralysed economy.

But moral dilemmas abound. Should tight restrictions have continued along with the current level of social benefit payments in order to save lives? Should getting back to work take precedence over the inevitable loss of life? Should death for a minority be the price paid for the psychological and economic wellbeing of the majority?

What is one life worth? Per se, if $4 billion a week saves 100 lives a week, is one human life worth one-hundredth of that figure — $40 million? Some would say that life is of infinite worth. Economists, politicians and financially crippled Australians might privately differ. It is an uncomfortable equation.

In these unprecedented times, Scott Morrison is required to play God in matters of life or death. He and world leaders are expected to navigate unprecedented and uncertain socioeconomic circumstances.

Maybe the prime minister needs some heaven-sent guidance from the man himself.

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