For instance, take Sub-Saharan Africa. Median age is ~18 years, and only 3% of the population is above the age of 65 (for Italy, these figures are 45 years and 24%, respectively). Their mortality rates are already very high, so the net impact on their life expectancy will be modest, since age is the single biggest risk factor. Any population loss, even under the most pessimistic scenarios, will be recovered in months (whereas the US will take up to half a decade to recover from a loss of 4.3 million people, which is what happens if the losses in Italy’s epicenter are projected across the entire country; meanwhile, some European countries with declining populations – and, for that matter, White Americans – may never recover their absolute numbers at all for the foreseeable future).
Conversely, lockdowns are harder on poor countries. For denizens of the industrialized world, they may range from an inconvenience to bankruptcy at the extremes (though governments can, and many are, taking steps to mitigate that). However, most assuredly nobody is going to starve, and non-coronavirus related mortality is actually likely to decrease. However, this may not be true for the Third World, where far more people are at the edge of subsistence (child malnutrition rate in S.S. Africa and South Asia is around 40%). Informal economies are much larger, and there is much less state capacity to insulate the population against economic cataclysms on account of both resource constraints and institutional shortfalls.
Nonetheless, the “Third World” – India, Pakistan, even SSA – has been surprisingly conscientious about combating the coronavirus. Many African countries have closed borders. Modi has imposed a 21 day lockdown on India, causing severe hardships to tens of millions of stranded workers.
But should even be bothering? Main potential problem for those of us in the Global North is that this will complicate efforts to contain Corona at the global level. As I pointed out, letting the novel coronavirus become an endemic disease – and assuming it would retain its virulence and subsequently behave like a seasonal flu – would permanently subtract 2-3 years from developed world life expectancy relative to what it would have been otherwise (much less for the Third World, though it would still increasingly impact on them in the future as they age unless it is eradicated by vaccine). As such, First World countries that do manage to deal with Corona, at least for the time being, will impose much stronger barriers to movement from “red zones” that do not contain their epidemics. Will Nigerian elites be OK with curtailing their shopping trips to Harrods? Or they may even want to impose sanctions on such countries (though I think this is a purely theoretical possibility).
That brings us to Iran. It now looks like they’re going to be the first major country to throw in the towel on seriously economically disruptive measures to contain its spread. Median age – 30 years, i.e. in between Europe and S.S. Africa. And they are already living under sanctions as it is – in fact, the IMF has just denied them a $5 billion emergency loan thanks to US interference. Although Iran is hardly Third World, it’s not particularly rich either. I allow that on balance they might be better off letting coronavirus burn through their population with just low-cost interventions to flatten the curve. The resultant mortality spike can be, with substantial legitimacy, be blamed on the US.