Anyone who thinks they have their head around how an economy works has a head spinning at the vast sums of money Grant Robertson and Adrian Orr are creating to get us through this crisis. Nothing in history tells us how an economy survives a shutdown on this scale.
Even in the Great Depression of the 1930s most people were employed, most industries continued at reduced output, the engines of the economy were ticking over.
We're told this pandemic is unprecedented but the first outbreak of a severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2002 was declared a pandemic. So was the swine flu in 2009. Public health professors chided governments at the time for not taking those seriously enough.
Now governments are taking their advice very seriously indeed, none more than ours. On Wednesday, when we were confined to home for a month, the Business Insider Australia website reported seven countries had implemented the world's most restrictive mass quarantines: China, France, India, Italy, New Zealand, Poland and the UK. One of those is an outlier.
Sign up to our daily Covid-19 newsletter for essential advice and a full summary of the day's news and developments. Register or sign in here and select Top News Stories
Until late last week the professors were advising limited measures to slow down the spread of Sars-CoV-2 so that hospitals could cope with its peak. Our Government duly shut the border to tourism and announced wage subsidies and tax relief for business that depends on it.
Then a team at Imperial College, London, produced the results of predictive modelling that suggested even if their "mitigation" strategy managed to slow it down, Britain's hospitals couldn't cope. Now their recommended strategy is "suppression" of the virus through mass isolation.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
In Wellington on Monday, our Government decided not to wait for confirmation of community transmission as previously planned before shutting down the country. The Prime Minister announced we were moving from stage 2 restrictions to stage 4 in 48 hours.
So here we are, confined to the house, unable to have the grandchildren visit, forbidden to fraternise with anyone from another household, forbidden to drive anywhere unless it's for essential supplies. Police and soldiers may be in the streets if needed to enforce our isolation.
Between them, Robertson and Orr have been committing more billions by the day to pay private-sector wages and underwrite house mortgages and business overdrafts. It's tempting to think it's only money, book entries, the stuff finance ministers and central bankers deal with. But it's not, it's the stuff we all deal with. Our quality of life depends on the value of our dollar.
Meanwhile, the professors at Imperial College have estimated the virus could return with weeks once suppression is relaxed. It's easier to impose a lockdown than it will be to lift one. It may be particularly hard for New Zealand.
This is the only country of the aforementioned seven that was put under its suppression regime when it yet to record any deaths from the coronavirus and very few of its cases had even needed to go into hospital.
Here it is still possible to hope - and fervently we do - that the virus has been largely contained to returned travellers who, being fit and healthy enough to travel, were not at much risk of its serious effects.