Early lockdowns in an epidemic can substantially reduce infections, and policymakers should be wary of lifting them to jumpstart their economies when infections remain high, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Thursday.
The COVID-19 pandemic showed that government lockdowns succeeded in lowering infections, the IMF wrote in a chapter of its forthcoming World Economic Outlook, but they also contributed to the recession and hit vulnerable groups such as women and young people particularly hard.
Voluntary social distancing driven by fears of contracting the disease also contributed heavily to the recession and was unlikely to recede if lockdowns were lifted while cases remained elevated, the researchers warned.
"Addressing the health risks appears to be a pre-condition to allow for a strong and sustained economic recovery," wrote IMF economists Francesco Grigoli and Damiano Sandri in a blog post on the research.
"Lockdowns impose short-term costs but may lead to a faster economic recovery as they lower infections and thus the extent of voluntary social distancing," they wrote, adding that alternatives such as wearing face masks, expanded testing and contact tracing could have even lower economic costs.