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Currently almost every country around the world is in a state of lockdown. However all of them seem to be in a state of 'indefinite' lockdown, with no long-term plan published anywhere. Has any country already created such a plan, with detailed milestones on what their exit strategy would look like?

Given that every day of lockdown costs billions of dollars, it seems that such a plan should be readily available in at least one country or territory. I know that China executed such a plan already, so they're officially out of lockdown state, but haven't heard anything from other countries.

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    The question really isn't answerable as-is, at least in more-or-less free market economies. Once restrictions are lifted, exit plans are up to individuals & businesses. – jamesqf Mar 31 at 0:44
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    @jamesqf the question is about when and how restrictions would be lifted. – JonathanReez Mar 31 at 0:55
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    @jamesqf How's that? Even in more-or-less free market economies, states (and large companies) plan strategies all the time. They cannot direct individual behavior or ensure perfect compliance (neither can authoritarian states incidentally) but they have many interventions available. If nothing else, they need to plan how they are going to lift lock down measures (all at once, area by area or sector by sector), when and under what conditions they are going to do it and with what kind of public information campaigns, if any. – Relaxed Mar 31 at 18:41
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    In fact, even if you want to be dogmatic about democracy, liberalism and free markets and wants the state to abstain as much as possible from any sort of coercive measure, once a lock-down is in place, you need to make these decisions no matter what, There is no “neutral” place to hide, extending the lock down (or even non-coercive “social distancing“ measures like in Sweden) or silently dropping all restrictions are decisions too. – Relaxed Mar 31 at 18:44
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    Re "Given that every day of lockdown costs billions of dollars": this seems like circular reasoning, as it neglects to factor in the costs and risks of no lockdown. It might well be more expensive not to have a lockdown, particularly if the prevailing models of risk are too optimistic, and we imagine a sort of plague analog to the Minsky financial instability hypothesis, where medical progress against disease leads to a kind of exuberant health "bubble", which hubris leads to unhygienic catastrophe... – agc Mar 31 at 23:19
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+100

No, there are no detailed plans. Let me describe the current situation:

We are up in the air, flying by visual flight rules through a dense fog of unclear data. We try not to hit the mountain, but we don't know how high it is. Some people say it's just a hill like all the others. We don't even know our own altitude. We were forced to shut down one engine to prevent a cabin fire but we don't have any visual on the wings. Everybody is shouting at us over the radio, with contradicting advice. The cabin is a mess because of our maneuvers, luggage is falling on people, babies run out of diapers and formula, some old people have died already, the cabin personnel is overwhelmed. We made our son in law the co-pilot although he doesn't even have a license which we start to regret. We don't know whether we have enough fuel to reach an airport where we can land. Right now we are simply trying to stabilize the plane and find out where we are. And you are asking whether we can tell you at which precise time the "Please fasten your seat belt" signs will turn off.


There are three general fields where we don't know enough to formulate a robust plan:

1. The Disease

  • It is unclear how contagious the disease is.
  • It is unclear how many people develop any symptoms.
  • It is unclear what proportion of infected people need to be in an ICU, and how many of those need to be respirated.
  • The fatality rate is essentially unknown (estimates are from 0.1% to 3%).
  • It is utterly unknown how many people are infected, in any country except China and perhaps South Korea. There is no wide-spread data on the actual number of infections because not enough test kits are available to perform sufficiently large random tests in the general population; there are also no antibody tests available to test for past infections. The case numbers reported in the news are positive test outcomes which say very little about the actual number of infections.
  • It is not clear when a vaccine will be available, and which quality it will have.

2. The Will And Ability of the Population to Comply

A social isolation experiment at this scale has never been tried. For now, everybody seems to play along, but for how long? The course of the pandemic crucially depends on the populations to comply with quarantines, isolation and general sanitary measures, and not only in each single country but world-wide. This is an unknown because it is not fixed — the history of the pandemic has not been written yet. We the people shape our own fate as it proceeds. The success of the lock-down, and mid-term the survival of governments, and long-term the survival of political systems depend on the peoples' appreciation of the perceived cost-benefit ratio and their resulting willingness to collaborate.

3. The Economic Consequences

The economic disruption by virus and countermeasures alike is dwarfing all past experiences, with the potential exception of the Second World War. Credit Suisse used the following wording in a note: "The post-disease economy will be unrecognizable." Not unprecedented, or unknown: Unrecognizable. The world today is very much different than it was in 1918 when the Spanish Flu raged, or during the Second World War. It is much more interconnected, and buffers and stocks of goods are very lean. Delivery chains are designed to facilitate just-in-time production. If Italy cannot harvest or transport tomatoes this summer or broccoli (often with migrant workers), German supermarkets will be empty. German asparagus cannot be harvested because the Romanian migrant workers willing to do hard work for little money cannot travel. America can produce neither enough ventilators nor masks, nor computers, nor ballpoint pens to satisfy demand. The lock-downs affect the economy in many ways which interact and amplify each other non-linearly. Increasingly severe economic hardships will increase the pressure on governments to loosen the lock-down.

Any one of these unknowns would be sufficient to make any firm plan impossible.

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    Fantastic answer, accepting – JonathanReez Apr 1 at 16:43
  • @JonathanReez Thanks <blushing> – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 1 at 18:04
  • I should say that there are some estimates from closed populations for the asymptomatic rate (about 50%). And they don't bode well in an economics framework/perspective. – Fizz Apr 3 at 6:51
  • @Fizz Well, better than 30%. Interesting paper. Do you have a connection to the author? – Peter - Reinstate Monica Apr 3 at 10:11
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica: no, what makes you say that? (I found it highlighted on Greg Mankiw's blog, who is a well-known economist.) And it's not like Stock is obscure either, – Fizz Apr 3 at 10:16
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While discussions on lifting restrictions have already been started (here in Germany they were initiated by opposition parties), there is no sane politician that would announce a concrete plan. Even the opposition politicians initiating the debate do not want to name any dates, and would rather use a vague "as early as possible".

  1. Nobody knows when the peak will be reached. At the moment numbers are still increasing, although slower than before.
  2. Nobody knows the real number of infections. As test kits are scarce everywhere, (with very few exceptions) only symptomatic cases are tested. However, the number of unknown cases is decisive for future projects and therefore for how restrictions can be lifted. A high number of unknown cases would mean that the lethality is a lot lower than suspected, and that a lot more people are already immune to new infections. Antibody tests could bring more information about this and give a better base for planning.
  3. Politicians that announce lifting of the restrictions on a certain date would be held to their promises. If they fail to deliver, they might not survive the next election.
  4. Lifting restrictions is likely to cause a second wave of infections. Re-introducing harsh restrictions just 2 months after lifting them is hurting popularity even more. It is also expectable that the public acceptance of the re-introduced restrictions might be lower than the current ones.
  5. Sometimes the situation depends on the neighbours' situation. Opening the borders is only feasible if it does not cause the import of new infections. This will be hard to balance for tourism-dependent countries like Austria and Switzerland.
  6. Situations can be very different in various regions of the same country. A general plan on lifting restrictions will either be too soft or too hard.

Furthermore, restrictions are not binary. When the situation improves, restrictions will likely be lifted gradually. So it is likely to see the toy store open rather soon but discos will take more time. There is a lot of smaller steps that can be taken in between, like lifting restrictions if you wear a mask in public. So when people are talking about "not having normal life for 12 months" this applies to things like big rock concerts, sports games, etc. and less to being locked in your apartment.

Note that this does not mean that there are no plans. It is just not advisable to announce any exit plan while you are not sure where on the curve the country is.

Also, some details actually have dates. For example, normally the final school exams in Germany would be at this time. They have been postponed to May or June (depending on where you live). Although keeping a 2m distance between students during the exam is probably something the school might consider handy. ;)

update: Denmark has announced they may gradually lift the lockdown after Easter.

If we over the next two weeks across Easter keep standing together by staying apart, and if the numbers remain stable for the next two weeks, then the government will begin a gradual, quiet and controlled opening of our society again, at the other side of Easter.

However, this is of course still pretty vague on the details and by no defintion a long-term exit plan.

She said she hoped to be able to present a plan for the first phase of the reopening by the end of this week after consultation with the other parties in government.

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    While this does make a good point for why there aren't (or shouldn't be) concrete plans with firm dates, it also seems to suggest there are basically no plans whatsoever anywhere, which seems quite hard to believe (especially when you start off saying discussions about lifting restrictions have already started). The question does ask for "detailed milestones", which may include conditions to reach certain milestones, and doesn't need to include firm dates, or any dates whatsoever. – NotThatGuy Mar 30 at 14:42
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    I am sure there are rough plans or at least people are working on such plans. Even without specifying fixed dates, it is possible to assign an order or priority to different parts of life. However it would be unadvisable to publish any concrete date in the current situation – Manziel Mar 30 at 15:05
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    +1 Besides the political motivations in not being too concrete at this point, there are practical psychological ones. Since no one yet exactly knows how things are going to turn out, any premature decisions, presented to the public which then have to be walked back are going to have a real cost in credibility. A government which says 1 thing this week, another the next and changes its mind day to day is going to have a real problem getting the people to buy in and agree when they do have a real, best-effort plan, which will end up costing some lives, make no mistake. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Mar 30 at 17:26
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    @CJDennis on the other hand, it makes little sense to decide on specific criteria right now, as opposed to later when more information is possible. Using the same example, perhaps "no new infections for two weeks" or "no new infections for two months" would be better, and there's little benefit in choosing and committing now as opposed to essentially saying "we'll cross that bridge when we get there". In the face of such uncertainty, you do planning but any plans that you make are expected to be just preliminary analysis of options, and they most likely will change a lot before implementation. – Peteris Mar 31 at 10:21
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    I am not sure any of this really precludes drafting or publishing a plan. It certainly doesn't need fix dates or rigid application.For example, a proper plan would define conditions to transition from one stage to another, region by region. But there are other reasons to be careful: previous plans borne out of the 2009 pandemic have proven rather inadequate and have largely been replaced by ad hoc measures, there has been too little time to vet any new plan and lock down measures are so onerous that states might be forced to lift them before meeting the conditions they would plan for. – Relaxed Mar 31 at 18:54
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In New Zealand, where I live there is a pretty good long term framework as least if not a plan. Save lives manage the spread until a vaccine is available. The government has communicated that this 'Event' will last about 18 months maybe even 2 years. So has implemented a 4 Level system. https://covid19.govt.nz/government-actions/covid-19-alert-system/

Level 4 Eliminate
Level 3 Restrict
Level 2 Reduce
Level 1 Prepare
New Zealand is currently at Level 4.  

Each level has different restrictions lvl 4 being a very tight lock down where no businesses are open and movement is heavily restricted and, lvl 1 which still has tight border controls but internally fairly relaxed movement. The idea or 'hope' being that over the next months or years the level will go down and up as needed to manage the infection and continue life as normal as we can until a vaccine is available.

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    Doesn't seem like a very detailed plan. E.g. why not allow travel from countries with similar or lower rates of infection? – JonathanReez Mar 31 at 17:24
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    More on this at stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/120731346/… in short "Government is responding to a strategic shift (away) from mitigation or 'flatten the curve' approach to the current stamp it out and elimination strategy" – Criggie Apr 1 at 0:02
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    @JonathanReez NZ is not much of a travel hub - as such our physical isolation and ocean boundaries mean infection can only arrive by air. Any ocean traveller cases will have time to show symptoms. NZ has no land borders with any other nation. Plus we're a main gateway to Antartica, which remains clear so far. – Criggie Apr 1 at 0:04
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    @Alex Only Level 4 would be considered 'Lock down'. Stages 3, 2 and 1 are lessening degrees of social and economic restrictions. New Zealand just moved out of lvl 4 to lvl 3 today (which is still fairly restrictive) after being there for 33 days. We will have this level system of restrictions for 2 years but hopefully wont need to return to the maximum restrictions of Level 4. The public are largely on-board with this system and there has been clear and consistent vocabulary by government when describing the levels. There seems to be a fairly high level of trust in the government so far. – David Apr 28 at 8:25
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    @Alex The New Zealand borders are completely closed. Absolutely no one can cross the borders unless they are a citizen/permanent resident (very few exceptions i.e humanitarian work) and even they are taken to a government managed quarantine facility for 14 days. This is said to be taking place regardless of the current 'Alert Level' until the risk of importing new cases has reduced. The government has said any loosening of border restrictions will be some time away and will depend how the rest of the world deals with the virus. – David Apr 28 at 8:31
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Yes, the IOC has such plan (yeah, I know it's not a country)

The postponed Tokyo Olympics will be held from July 23 to August 8 in 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed.

Of course, for a sports org is much easier to say "see you next year", relative to what country can do.

The US scrapped more immediate plans to "reopen by Easter", which shows the difficulty in coming up with concrete short[er]-term schedules.

President Donald Trump has said federal coronavirus guidelines such as social distancing will be extended across the US until at least 30 April.

He had previously suggested that they could be relaxed as early as Easter, which falls in mid-April.

"The highest point of the death rate is likely to hit in two weeks," Mr Trump said.

I'm not sure what the CDC officials think on this as they sometimes disagree with Trump (on more than one thing).

The more general plan you hear from other Western countries is that it will take months, e.g. for the UK:

The UK could remain under coronavirus emergency measures for as long as six months, a top health official has said, even as one expert said there were early signs that the outbreak was slowing in Britain.

Curbs on normal life may need to continue through the summer and into the autumn in order to avoid progress being "wasted," England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said on Sunday.

Harries suggested that while lockdown rules imposed last week could be relaxed once the curve of cases begins to flatten, strict social distancing guidelines will likely remain in place.


Let me add that if any government had a clear and convincing schedule for coming out of lockdowns, economists would be able to use it in their predictions. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Most such predictions e.g. from the IMF or the CBO are couched with lotsa high uncertainty warnings, e.g.:

The outlook for global growth is negative and the IMF expects “a recession at least as bad as during the global financial crisis, or worse,” Georgieva said. [...]

Georgieva on Monday said that a recovery is expected in 2021, but to reach it, countries would need to prioritize containment and strengthen health systems.

Or for the US

Gross domestic product is expected to decline by more than 7 percent during the second quarter. If that happened, the decline in the annualized growth rate reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis would be about four times larger and would exceed 28 percent. Those declines could be much larger, however. [...]

CBO’s economic projections, especially for later periods, are highly uncertain at this time.

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    "reopen by Easter" wasn't really a plan, it was more of a wish. – Barmar Mar 30 at 14:47
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    @Barmar To be fair, with Trump it's often hard to tell the difference – divibisan Mar 30 at 15:18
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Unfortunately, in the current state of things the only "plans" that can be made are minor variations on

1) Hope someone comes up with a vaccine (real soon|someday).

2) Admit that if #1 doesn't happen, just about everyone is going to get it, lots of people will die, and we just have to hope that it's something you can only get once.

3) Lie to the public, either through ignorance or malice.

The fact is that no one knows how much more this will spread, or how fast.

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    China has pretty much got it under control. ~80,000 cases out of ~1,440,000,000 people is much less than "just about everyone". It's actually 1 case per ~18,000 people. Other countries are gradually getting the pandemic under control as well. – CJ Dennis Mar 31 at 2:57
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    @CJ_Dennis How reliable is China's information? – Morgan Mar 31 at 3:08
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    @Morgan More than enough for this purpose. Even if the 80k figure is off by a factor of 5 or 10, it doesn't change the conclusion that the spread is under control there. If it wasn't, China would have tens of millions of cases by now (and the associated hundreds of thousands of deaths), which would be really hard to cover up (but still just a few percent of the population). – TooTea Mar 31 at 9:35
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    @Morgan That's why I mentioned other countries which are also getting it under control. South Korea's curve has almost flattened. Italy's curve is flattening as is Australia's. – CJ Dennis Mar 31 at 22:08
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    @Petr Hudeček: If there are people - including asymptomatic carriers - who still have the virus, and they come into sufficiently close contact with enough uninfected people, the virus will spread. That's just biology. – jamesqf Apr 3 at 17:53
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Argentina isn't officially in a state of 'indefinite' lockdown. Up until yesterday, the plan was that the lockdown would last until March 31st. Yesterday the president announced that the lockdown would be extended until April 12th.

Unofficially, the plan is very clearly that the plan changes according to the situation. But the official plan is that the lockdown ends completely on April 12th (no partial lockdown or adjustment period).

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  • So what's the 6 month plan for Argentina? – JonathanReez Mar 30 at 22:58
  • No idea, tbh. I don't know that they've announced one. Not really the answer that you were hoping for, in that sense, but at least so far the plan includes that the country won't be in lockdown in 6 months. – Blueriver Mar 31 at 13:56
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No, they haven't, and the reason is:

The epidemiologists know full well that the second wave is usually more deadly than the first, but they're reluctant to dwell on this because they have to focus on getting the population (and the politicians) to accept the restrictions that limit the effect of the first wave. The reaction to these restrictions, both in terms of the spread of the disease and in terms of the social, economic, and political effects will yield knowledge and experience which will inform the strategy for relaxing the initial lockdowns. Once we're over the first peak, you can expect a lot of public education explaining how and why we need to avoid a second wave. Hopefully by then there will be a lot more knowledge about how many people have been infected and how strong their immunity is, and this will have a strong bearing on the epidemiological models going forward.

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    This is an interesting perspective, but it is unclear how it is answering the question: how governments (if any) are planning to exit the lock-downs. – Alexei Mar 31 at 17:48
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    I have added a paragraph to make it more obvious how this answers the question. (Note, the question asks whether govt's have published a plan, not whether they have a plan.) – Michael Kay Mar 31 at 18:28
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The situation is evolving quickly and there is still a lot of uncertainty but, while I am not aware of any country having committed publicly to a specific plan to lift current restrictions, it is simply not true that there is no planning going on or that is impossible to make a plan. A lot has transpired in the media about these efforts.

  • Countries where the authorities publicized their work on a plan: Germany, France
  • Countries about to lift some restrictions: Austria, Denmark, and the Czech Republic
  • China lifted many of the restrictions they introduced earlier this year (and that most definitely comes with a plan, even if it has not necessarily been discussed openly)
  • There are also many plans from academia or think tanks, not to mention the literature on epidemiological modeling.

Additionally, many countries published detailed plans on how they would deal with a future flu pandemic some years ago, e.g. the US, the UK, or France. They have found limited applicability to the current pandemic, partly because Covid-19 is not caused by an influenza virus but still formed a basis for a strategy to deal with it and show how a detailed plan might look like in the face of large uncertainty.

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