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The Physics of a Coronavirus Pandemic: How to Avoid Impending Apocalyptic or Dystopian Economic Scenarios

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Abstract: This working paper builds on a body of previous work that suggests novel ways to stop a pandemic when the data needed to stop it is only available after its onset. This previous work points to a theoretical framework, namely probabilistic innovation theory, that suggests that there are ways to radically improve the probabilities of finding solutions to complex scientific problems, including in biomedical research- in the form of real time biomedical research. This paper extends this work to make a conceptual argument that there is a danger that current lockdowns can shut down the global economy in the same way as an engine can seize without lubrication, by cutting rather than slowing the actions of supply chains. This is described here as the physics of the coronavirus outbreak- the economic forces of momentum and inertia, that need to be modelled to better understand the consequences of breaking supply chains by implementing indiscriminant lockdowns (lockdowns that do not discriminate between those that have recovered and those that have not). There is currently little debate about the inertial forces that will need to be overcome in order to re-start economic activity after the pandemic. Scenarios of 90 unemployment seem to be absent from current debates, no doubt in order to boost much needed morale. Research is urgently needed into the consequences of a state transformation of many of the world’s economies- from dynamic system states to static states as lockdowns terminate much economic activity. It is argued here that lockdowns can save lives and minimize economic harm if they are discriminate - if they allow all recovered workers to quickly re-enter the economy - to work and travel - while locking down the uninfected and the ill. Poor management of this process may prove catastrophic, a serious consequence of a lack of testing of recovered persons. Indiscriminate lockdowns may break supply chains, particularly in poor countries, where recovered persons remain locked down. Indiscriminant lockdowns are particularly concerning in very poor areas with high population density when governments have insufficient means to feed people whose survivalist means have been shut down, often brutally by police and military. Wealthy countries should offer urgent help as soon as they are in a position to do so. This paper also echoes an increasingly widespread call to suggest that a very large scale biomedical crowdsourcing award would be effective in shifting activity out of already productive and profitable biomedical research activities into uncertain COVID-19 research. It seems that an award of no less than about 1000 billion dollars would be needed obtain the necessary economies of scale across the biomedical system. Such a large scale effort might be necessary, because the costs of research are borne by those seeking a solution. Governments should collaborate to contribute this award, because what they offer will surely be a lot less than the costs of economic destruction that are increasing exponentially due to lockdowns. They would not have to pay a cent if a solution was not found. Ideas can save lives, but only if they reach the policy makers that are now making decisions that are measured in human lives.

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