Economists tot up cost of possible pandemic

Sydney, April 27 (Inditop) Even a mild influenza pandemic could cost 1.4 million lives and $330 billion in lost production worldwide, Australian economists have estimated.

At the other end of the scale, a massive pandemic would kill 142 million people and lop $4.4 trillion off production.

A pandemic of any scale would also lead to a “re-evaluation of country risk as investors observe the responses of governments”, Australian National University economists Warwick McKibbin and Alexandra Sidorenko said in a study commissioned in 2006 by Sydney-based private think tank the Lowy Institute.

But the authors warn that it has proved impossible in the past to pick which pandemics will be mild and which massive.

“Epidemiologists always remind us to expect the unexpected with influenza,” they wrote. “The emergence of the influenza epidemic is as unpredictable as that of extreme meteorological events or earthquakes.”

They note that the biggest economic shock of epidemics is not from death but from the temporary incapacity of those infected.

They also point out that, as the relatively mild Hong Kong-based severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic in 2003 shows, “despite a relatively small number of cases and deaths, the global costs are significant and not limited to the directly affected countries.”

McKibbin and Sidorenko recommend that governments invest heavily in trying to prevent the outbreak of pandemic influenza because of the enormous damage such an outbreak would have on economies.