Articles – The Centre for Independent Studies

Incentives key to Covid suppression

Robert Carling

22 January 2021 | Ideas@theCentre

The bossy, patronising attitude of the overweening nanny state has been on prominent display in our governments’ management of the SARS-COV-2 pandemic.

Even New South Wales — which is generally credited with finessing suppression of the virus and eschewing the heavy-handed tactics of other states and territories — has at times hectored and harassed its citizens. The latest manifestation of this is Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s threat to keep restrictions in place unless testing rates exceed 20,000 per day.

It is unclear where such an arbitrary threshold comes from — not long ago the ‘magic number’ was said to be 30,000 — but let’s suspend scepticism, give hard-pressed health authorities the benefit of the doubt, and accept that 20,000 is in the public interest. How is this best achieved, given that the rate has recently averaged well below 10,000?

Nobody is compelled to get tested. People will respond to the incentives they face. There is an incentive to get tested if they have symptoms. They may also come forward in large numbers if they perceive a clear and present danger in the community, as 70,000 did in one day at the peak of the northern beaches scare.

But in general, they will not respond to appeals to civic-mindedness if they see no benefits to themselves and think, quite rationally, that the 20,000 will surely emerge from the ranks of 8 million other candidates on any given day. And they will not respond well to being threatened like children who are told that Santa won’t visit unless they behave.

If 20,000 — or any such magic number — is to be reached and sustained, the government will need a smarter approach than threatening the people that elected it. Better explanations would be a good start.

Paying people to get tested would be going too far, but what about a lottery scheme in which all who are tested on any day that total numbers exceed 20,000 go into a draw for a substantial cash prize?

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