The billionaire Tom Golisano was smoking a Padron cigar on his patio in Florida on Tuesday afternoon (March 24). He was worried.
“The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more people,” said Mr Golisano, founder and chairman of the payroll processor Paychex.
“I have a very large concern that if businesses keep going along the way they’re going then so many of them will have to fold.”
President Donald Trump says he doesn’t want the cure for the Covid-19 pandemic “to be worse than the problem”, and some of America’s wealthiest people and executives are echoing his rallying cry.
They want to revive an economy that could face its worst quarterly drop ever – even if it means pulling back on social distancing measures that public health officials say can help stop the coronavirus.
These investors aren’t prizing profits over lives, they say, they’re just willing to risk some horrors to avoid others.
“You’re picking the better of two evils,” said Mr Golisano, who wants people to go back to their offices in states that have been relatively spared by the coronavirus, but remain at home in hot spots.
“You have to weigh the pros and cons.”
In New York, where hospitals are at a tipping point and getting pummelled by patients, Governor Andrew Cuomo says the economy shouldn’t be restarted “at the cost of human life” and that he’s developing a plan that “lets younger people get back to work”.
The question is when they should do it.
Mr Trump, guided by a group of hedge fund and private equity titans, wants the country up and running again by Easter, though public health officials warn that’s too soon for a virus that’s killed more than 18,400 and infected at least 400,000 worldwide.
Only companies with less than 500 employees are required to provide paid sick leave for workers out with Covid-19.
Economists from Northwestern University calculated that keeping social distancing practices in place until cases decline could save 600,000 lives nationwide.
Mr Lloyd Blankfein, who ran Goldman Sachs Group until 2018, helped kickstart the calls to get back to work on Sunday when he tweeted that “extreme measures to flatten the virus ‘curve'” were sensible “for a time” but could crush the economy: “Within a very few weeks let those with a lower risk to the disease return to work.”
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SOURCE: Strait Times