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Testing – not lockdowns – may explain why some countries handle Covid-19 better

This is a post by a Guest Author
Disclaimer: The author’s views are entirely his or her own, and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the Consumer Choice Center.


There are ongoing debates about who has been better handling the Covid-19 pandemic: testing or lockdown?

Covid-19

With so many people confined to their homes, passions are running high, and there are ongoing debates about who has been better handling the Covid-19 pandemic. So much so that it feels like comparing and contrasting countries and their trajectories has become sort of a global pastime.

Nearly all developed countries (and others) have put their populations under severe lockdowns and emphasized social distancing as the silver bullet against the spread of the virus. Sweden, however, has recently been castigated for failing to put its population under a lockdown like every other country, especially other Nordic countries which it is compared and contrasted against. 

The problem is that it is quite hard to compare the performance of two randomly selected countries. For instance, on every level Norway seems to be doing much better than Sweden. That said, one can always find a bunch of other countries that are doing much worse despite having been under lockdown for some time.

It should be noted that Sweden has made some questionable decisions, regardless of social distancing. It failed to ramp up testing with increasing cases around March 20, and it only closed its nursing homes for visits in early April.

But aren’t lockdowns clearly working? 

Many people have still argued that lockdowns are clearly working because the epidemic has slowed shortly after their imposition. However, it is important that we are careful when inferring that lockdowns were responsible for the decline. There may be a correlation between the two, but as everyone should know, correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and there may be other intervening variables. It is vital that we not jump to conclusions too fast. While many people believe, and many epidemiological models assume, that unchecked epidemics just grow exponentially until more than half of the population gets infected, the evidence for Covid-19 increasingly suggests otherwise. 

Several research papers (e.g. here and here) argued that the dynamics of the Covid-19 pandemic are well-described by exponential functions only at the early stage, after which so-called power-law functions are a much better fit. A detailed study of the outbreak in the initially hit communes in Lombardy also suggests that in each commune, it started slowly, then briefly became exponential and then slowed, all that before any significant intervention.

To help you better understand what the mathematical jargon above means and why it is so important, consider two simple functions, y=2x and y=x2. The first function is exponential and the second function is a power-law one. You will better see the crucial difference between them if they are plotted together.

If these functions were describing an epidemic, then the x-axis would mean rounds of transmission. In the beginning there is one infected person in both cases. Then, until the fifth round the functions seem to grow in at an almost similar speed but afterwards, they diverge dramatically.

When researchers talk about an epidemic growing first exponentially and then in accordance with a power law, they mean that the growth of the epidemic looks like the hybrid function (first, y=2x and y=x2 after round 5) below. Its growth clearly slows a lot after the fifth round.

Why could an epidemic grow exponentially, first, and then slow down on its own? Here, it is important to remember that real societies are complex. Instead of interacting with random people every now and then, people tend to form groups (or clusters, in scientific terminology) and live in local areas within which interactions are much more intense than outside of them. With obvious implications for infection transmission.

What probably changes at the early stage of the epidemic is that so-called superspreader events are much likelier. Such events, where single infected people spread the virus to scores, hundreds or even thousands of people, have clearly played an enormous role in Covid-19. It is enough to mention the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea, the tragic gathering of French catholics in Mulhouse and the first coronavirus-hit hospitals in Lombardy. At these events, infected people have an opportunity to spread the virus way beyond their clusters of interactions.

After the initial stage, when everyone becomes aware that the epidemic is in the community and significant events are cancelled, the infection may get increasingly isolated within clusters, first, grow slower and then start falling off. The available data is increasingly hinting at this process in play. In Italy, cases appear to have peaked on the day the national lockdown was announced. In the US, they appear to have peaked on March 20.  

Lockdowns could even be counterproductive

A more speculative but still plausible idea is that lockdowns could, in fact, not merely coincide with the slowing-down of Covid-19 without causing it but actually create more damage than they prevent.

Many people believe that if some social distancing (like closing bars or canceling events) is desirable than extreme social distancing like lockdowns that keeps most people at home most of the time must be even more beneficial. However, this potentially ignores two important facts about Covid-19 and viral diseases in general.

First, it is abundantly clear that Covid-19 overwhelmingly spreads in closed, often poorly ventilated spaces and through close contacts. Secondly, as Robin Hanson convincingly argued, there is a wealth of evidence that the severity of viral disease depends on the viral dose received. This means that if families are forced to stay at home together all the time, this may create perfect conditions for the virus to spread and especially cause severe disease.

The data from Google about actual social distancing patterns in several countries hit by Covid-19 shows that Italy, Spain and France have had by far the most extreme social distancing, and the UK was starting to catch up with them after its lockdown. Yet, these four countries have some of the highest fatality rates in the world per population and detected cases.    

Could testing explain things better?

A better way to try to make sense of the causation is to try to identify a bunch of countries that have something important in common. The most important thing in any epidemic is to minimize deaths, and there is a group of countries that seem to have far fewer deaths by population size, and per identified infections, than others. These countries include Iceland, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Austria, and Norway. You can see how low their case fatality rates are compared to other countries with a lot of cases here (see the “death rates” column).

What makes those countries succeed in driving down deaths? One would actually be surprised to learn that none of these countries is, or was, under total lockdown. South Korea hasn’t even closed bars and restaurants. This shows that extreme social distancing measures are not necessarily the best explanation.

The real answer may largely lie in how many tests those countries have been doing compared to others. Testing may reduce fatality rates by giving public health responders valuable information and helping to isolate and quarantine those that carry the virus before they spread it to vulnerable groups like the elderly.

Iceland is the absolute champion at testing. It has already conducted 28,992 tests, which is more than 8% of its entire population. It also has the world’s lowest case fatality rate from Covid-19 at 0.038%. Iceland isn’t an anomaly, and using Iceland as an example isn’t cherry picking. Researchers Sinha, Sengupta and Ghosal showed that country death rates from Covid-19 are significantly correlated with the intensity of testing. They did not, however, control for the potential impact of lockdowns and other stringent social distancing measures.

Testing and outcomes by region

In addition to national data, one can also look at regional data where it is available and see if the testing/fatality relationship still holds. Italy has been publishing detailed regional statistics on Covid-19 starting from February 24. If we plot tests per confirmed cases in each region with reported fatalities per million inhabitants, we get the following picture:

The chart surprisingly shows us that Italy’s worst hit region isn’t Lombardy, and that it is actually the little-known Aosta Valley. We also see that there is a clear negative relationship between the intensity of testing and fatality rates. In fact, the former seems to explain more than half of the variation in the latter, and the regression coefficient is statistically significant (the p-value is 0.0003).

To conclude, it will take a long time and careful research to sort out why some countries and regions have gone through the Covid-19 pandemic much less damaged than others. That said, one thing seems to be increasingly clear. When the dust settles it will be clear that testing will be a significant factor, and that the importance of social distancing will be diminished. 

Guest Author: Daniil Gorbatenko


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Il Sistema Lombardo Funziona

Nelle ultime settimane la gestione dell’emergenza in Lombardia è stata oggetto di grande dibattito. Le critiche maggiori sono state rivolte al sistema sanitario regionale. Gli aspetti problematici potrebbero, però, risiedere altrove e le cause di una gestione non ottimale andrebbero ricercate più a fondo.


PERCHÈ È IMPORTANTE?   Una polemica oramai quotidiana riguarda il ruolo della sanità privata, soprattutto in Lombardia, e di come il sistema di cooperazione tra strutture pubbliche e private avrebbe fallito. Proviamo a capire se veramente è il sistema sanitario lombardo a non aver funzionato oppure qualcosa d’altro.

LA RIFORMA   La sanità privata è figlia di una riforma voluta dall’allora maggioranza di centrodestra guidata dal Presidente Roberto Formigoni, che pose erogatori privati e pubblici sullo stesso piano, purché il sistema rimanesse universale (tutti i cittadini hanno accesso alle cure nello stesso modo) e solidale (le prestazioni sono pagate dalla fiscalità generale e non direttamente dal singolo paziente).

Per il paziente nulla cambia, ci si può rivolgere agli ospedali pubblici o privati senza distinzione. Al contrario, secondo i dati ANGES – Regione Lombardia del 2018, gli ospedali lombardi sono parimenti nei primi 10 ospedali italiani, come per esempio il San Raffaele di Milano, il San Matteo di Pavia, l’Istituto dei Tumori di Milano e il Papa Giovanni XXIII di Bergamo.

INVESTIMENTI E RICERCA   Inoltre andrebbe considerato che questa competizione tra pubblico e privato ha fatto sì che la spesa sanitaria privata e pubblica dedicata alla ricerca e alla cura della persona crescesse di quasi il 28% annuo (dati UniBocconi), creando centri di eccellenza riconosciuti in tutto il mondo, sia privati sia pubblici, come ad esempio gli Spedali Civili di Brescia, il Gruppo San Donato, Humanitas e tanti altri.

Questo è un tempo di emergenza, come dimostrano le parole di medici ed operatori sanitari che parlano di una vera e propria guerra, guerra nella quale combattono a nostra difesa sia operatori privati sia operatori pubblici.

Gli operatori privati si sono impegnati a mettere a disposizione il proprio personale sanitario nelle strutture pubbliche, nonché le loro stesse strutture. Regione Lombardia ha riorganizzato la rete ospedaliera creando hub specializzati divisi per patologia e prestazione sanitaria, al fine di liberare posti per pazienti COVID-19.

IL PRIVATO FUNZIONA?   Se tutto questo è stato possibile lo si deve anche alla capacità della sanità privata di riorganizzarsi in tempi brevissimi per poter ospitare il maggior numero di pazienti provenienti dalle strutture pubbliche sommerse dall’ondata di pazienti affetti da Coronavirus, spesso fatto senza attingere a risorse pubbliche, come dimostra il nuovo reparto di terapia intensiva realizzato con donazioni private al San Raffaele di Milano. Ovviamente, la sanità privata è in prima linea anche nella gestione diretta di pazienti COVID lombardi, con circa il 30% di quest’ultimi ospitato presso strutture private.

COME LA COREA DEL SUD   Se il sistema è andato in tilt non è per colpa della competizione pubblico privato, la quale ha fatto sì che i lombardi potessero ancora usufruire di cure ospedaliere di qualità, grazie alla maggiore flessibilità della quale l’erogatore privato è portatore. Ad ulteriore prova dell’assoluta bontà dell’apporto privato nella gestione della crisi dovuta al Coronavirus, andrebbe ricordato che il sistema sud-coreano, portato da molti come modello, è costituto per la grande parte da operatori sanitari privati, e dove la ripartizione della spesa sanitaria tra pubblico e privato è quasi paritetica.

Purtroppo, restano le migliaia di morti e quindi la necessità di porsi una domanda: perché la politica lombarda non ha attuato una strategia di contenimento e di prevenzione come quella veneta, fondata su un intervento di test preventivi, che è risultata più efficace? Se finora non lo si è attuato, perché, alla luce degli evidenti risultati, ora non si procede in questa direzione?


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

5 ways to brighten your quarantine

It’s my 25th day of quarantine, and while I had very ambitious plans at the beginning, for a week or so I could barely switch my attention to anything not related to the pandemic. 

We’ve all been there: even toilet paper memes have had a touch of hysteria to them. After some time, following all the news makes you so intoxicated that you naturally forget about the small things such as cooking, exercising, reading, self-learning, and quality time with loved ones. The things that can actually help us go through this quarantine and preserve our mental health. 

Deciding to drastically limit my news intake was a life-changer. Here I’m sharing a few books and online-courses that have brightened my quarantine. 

1. Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday

No book ever written is likely as relevant today as Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. A literary masterpiece that emphasises the fragility of multiculturalism in Europe, a celebration of peace and a rare historical memoir of the world that is long gone, Europe before WWI. 

A few weeks ago, I decided to re-read some of its chapters, in particular, the one where Zweig describes the period of security in Europe at the end of the 19th century. This particular passage made me experience a sort of deja vu:

“The people of the time scornfully looked down on earlier epochs with their wars, famines and revolutions, as periods, when mankind had not yet come of age, and was insufficiently enlightened. Now, however, it was a mere matter of decades before they finally saw an end to evil and violence, and in those days this faith is uninterrupted, inexorable progress truly had the force of a religion.”

There is, of course, a lot more to this book. My colleague Yael Ossowski wrote an excellent and detailed review to capture your attention:

The themes of Zweig’s stories always yield hope. Universalism was key, personal liberty a calling, and culture was the grand unifier. Authority was seen to be absurd and zealous. Cosmopolitanism was both an achievable and desirable goal.

He crisscrossed the European continent meeting fellow artists, philosophers, and thinkers who would come to shape western civilization for decades to come.

It was in the cafes, theatres, and streetcars of major cities that he fell in love with the dream of Europe, a majestic collection of cultures and peoples wed together by history but bonded by a yearning for freedom.

2. The Science of Well-Being, Yale University on Coursera

The Science of Well-Being is the most popular Yale’s course of all time. At first, this fact makes you raise an eyebrow – because obviously we would all expect to see some economics or IT course topping the charts – but it turns out that “What is happiness?” remains one of the most important questions of our time.

The course’s instructor, professor of psychology Laurie Santos, reveals misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change. Along with various lectures and interviews, the course offers a wide array of tools to practice habits such as meditation and physical exercise. What can be a better motivation to leave a couch and put the phone aside for some time than a promise of happiness? 🙂

3. Easy-peasy apple tart!

For those of us who lack enthusiasm in the kitchen but desperately miss boulangeries and patisseries, here is a very quick apple tart recipe – it takes less than 15 minutes (plus 40 minutes in the oven).

  • Preheat the oven to 180C
  • Chop apples and add some cinnamon (if you like it!)
  • Make the pastry: beat eggs, add sugar and begin whipping it becomes foamy. Then add some flour – it depends on how many eggs you use – and mix it all together until the dough becomes homogeneous. 
  • Add apples to the dough
  • Grease your baking pan and put the dough into it
  • Bake in the oven for about 40-45 mins

Et voila!

4. FitOn – Free Fitness App

Workouts are a cool way not only to improve our health but also, especially in these times, to distract ourselves from the temptation to kill time with eating. Now that most of us are only allowed to go to supermarkets, the possibility of coming out of this quarantine with a few additional kilograms is very high. As delicious as those home-made snacks are, we should resist! And the FitOn app offers free personalised workouts that can come in handy.

For those who’ve always wanted to take up yoga, Waking Up app is a perfect place to start.

5. Follow Consumer Choice Center

Our team has been working hard to continue publishing on the most heated consumer issues. Next time you feel tempted to check the news, you’re much better go on our website and get an insight into our four key policy areas: science and health, consumer goods and lifestyle regulations, digital and mobility.

It’s easy to slide into pessimism with the pandemic looming in the background, but there is nothing most of us can do about it aside from staying at home, and there are many ways we can use this opportunity to the fullest. When we look back at 2020, we will see there were plenty of reasons to be excited about the future.

In the words of the New York Times’ Bret Stephens, “Not everything was bleak. Adults read more books, paid closer attention to their spouses and children, called their ageing parents more often, made more careful choices with their money, thought more deeply about what they really wanted in life. In time, that kind of spiritual deepening will surely pay its own dividends.”


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Cigarette-style climate change graphic warnings on fuel pumps? How about NO

Are consumers prepared to be hounded at the pump for fueling up their cars?

An article published last week in BMJ, the journal of the British Medical Association, makes an argument for including “cigarette-style” warning labels on fuel pumps, airline tickets, and energy bills. The warnings would highlight the “major health impacts” of fossil fuels for both the environment and human health.

The researchers behind the article claim this strategy, borrowed from tobacco control efforts, would highlight the “harmful” effects of fossil fuels and their contribution to climate change.

Warning labels connect the abstract threat of the climate emergency with the use of fossil fuels in the here and now, drawing attention to the true cost of fossil fuels (the externalities), pictorially or quantitatively. They sensitise people to the consequences of their actions, representing nudges, designed to encourage users to choose alternatives to fossil fuels, thus increasing demand for zero-carbon renewable energy.

While there is every reason to be concerned about climate change, there is no evidence that “warning labels” on gas pumps will do anything to dissuade individuals from using their vehicles to commute to work, visit family, or run errands.

Multiple studies have shown that warning labels are not effective in changing consumer behavior. Faced with increasing warning labels on many products, including those mandated by California’s Prop 65 law that labels almost everything carcinogenic, most consumers just tune out and learn to ignore them.

Because ordinary people need fuel for their cars, it doesn’t take much imagination to see such labels easily laughed off.

Rather than informing people and attempting to shift their behavior, this measure infantilizes consumers and assumes they aren’t intelligent enough to make the connection between daily driving and climate change. And it is not as if these warnings propose any alternatives.

When it comes to tobacco, one of the largest catalysts in getting to quit has actually been innovation: vaping devices and harm reducing nicotine alternatives, not warning labels.

Innovation allows for new products to get consumers to switch to less harmful products.

Rather than trying to use warning labels that won’t work, what about educating citizens on energy alternatives that produce fewer greenhouse gases, such as nuclear energy, natural gas, or biodiesel?

If we allow creative forces and innovation to derive a solution, wouldn’t that prove to be more effective?

This may be one attempt at “nudging” people into using fewer fossil fuels, but it won’t be anywhere as effective at mitigating climate change as actual innovation. Maybe that’s what we should write on the fuel pumps.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

The ‘Bad Boys’ of the Private Sector turn into Corona-Angels

In light of the Corona virus, businesses that are usually on the top of politicians’ lists to be taxed, regulated, nationalized, or shut down are demonstrating how much value they produce for society.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Laws Passed in Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic

It’s now springtime in the northern hemisphere, and we’re now several weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic.

As consumer advocates, our job has never relinquished: we’re there to closely monitor regulatory trends in major capitals to inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice.

With governments scrambling to protect its citizens, we’ve seen an unprecedented push to both pass and repeal laws in order to better fight against the virus. Some have been greatly beneficial to consumer choice, while others leave us scratching our heads.

Here’s a list of some of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly laws we’ve seen around the world.

Providing Healthcare

The Good

Massachusetts and other American states are removing regulations that prohibit medical professionals from practicing in other states

The United Kingdom has removed regulations that limited the quick production and shipping of medical supplies for its health professionals.

The U.S. relaxed rules on what can constitute a hospital, as makeshift healthcare facilities have sprung up around the country. It also has allowed more telemedicine, which was previously severely limited.

New York State has opened up its recommendation process for prescription drugs, allowing patients to have more choice.

The Bad

Early on, the Centers For Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration monopolized and centralized all testing, slowing down the initial response to the growing number of cases in multiple jurisdictions.

The Ugly

The Chinese Communist Party and its affiliated companies sold tests later determined to be faulty to countries including Spain and the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic, for example, 80% of the tests were found to not work in the slightest.

Alcohol Delivery

The Good

Many U.S. states and Canadian provinces legalized alcohol delivery and takeout options for restaurants and bars, helping to keep these stores in business while they’re forced to shut down their physical presence. This includes jurisdictions that previously did not allow for alcohol delivery.

The Bad

The Commonwealth of Pennslyvania closed all liquor stores in response to the coronavirus. Because the state maintains a monopoly on liquor, that means no Pennlsyvania residents are able to acquire liquor at this time. This has pushed thousands to visit neighboring states to purchase their booze.

In New Jersey, several liquor stores have been totally emptied by Pennsylvania residents alone!

The Ugly

South Africa has banned all alcohol sales until at least April 16th. Greenland followed the same blanket ban until the same date.

Surveillance and Technology

The Good

The FCC’s Keep America Connected Pledge has garnered the support of more than 60 companies committed to raising broadband speeds, removing all data caps, and providing better service during the pandemic. That means there will be no forced reduction of quality as is being mandated in the European Union via its net neutrality rules.

Germany will soon issue coronavirus “immunity certificates” to indicate who has recovered from the virus and is ready to re-enter society.

The Bad

Israel passed an emergency measure to allow the government to track mobile phone data in order to track the spread of the coronavirus.

Dozens of other countries are using mobile phone data secured from ad agencies to track the movements of citizens and to enforce social distancing. Over 500 U.S. cities are now tracking its residents.

The Ugly

South Africa will allow 10,000 field workers to “check up on people in the homes” if they have coronavirus.

Countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, and Myanmar have resorted to shutting down the Internet in the wake of the pandemic.

When the crisis first began in China, its forces shut down and jailed journalists and doctors who warned about the spread of the disease. It has been labeled a cover-up.

Rule of Law

The Good

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has reluctantly passed some restrictions, but wants to keep citizens free to come and go to ensure their freedoms during this time.

“And even if that were possible in practice – making people stay in their homes unless they have permission to go outside, for such a lengthy period – the virus could simply rear its head again once the measures were lifted. The Netherlands is an open country.”

The Bad

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to be tried on corruption charges, but due to the coronavirus, he shut down all courts and thus will still avoid a verdict.

The Ugly

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a vote that will allow him to rule by decree, without opposition nor elections, with no end date. This effectively erases the rule of law.

Do you have other examples? Write to us at [email protected].

Embracing free trade during a pandemic

Whether we will be able to get back on track on globalisation and economic liberalisation will be one of the most important tests for the post-coronavirus world. While lockdowns introduced by some governments are hopefully not going to stay there indefinitely, the perception of the role of international cooperation is likely to undergo some substantial shifts in the long run. International trade as a key instrument of promoting peace and prosperity will be a first casualty.

The EU-Mercosur agreement and the UK government’s ambition to become a global champion of free trade have become some of the most recent exciting developments. Despite a popular belief that free trade has been in decline for a couple of years, the number of new interventions implemented each year globally has sharply dropped. On the other hand, It would, of course, be desirable to see more liberalising policies instead but sometimes the absence of damaging action is sufficiently good in itself.

Graph Number of Interventions
Source: globaltradealert.org

The outbreak of COVID19 which has shattered the very roots of international cooperation also threatens this dynamic. One after another, countries have turned inwards to deal with the pandemic and shut themselves down from the rest of the world. Lockdowns are a timely reminder that in spite of globalisation – or even hyper globalisation in case of the EU – nation-states remain the driving force of global order. Where does this leave international trade?

International trade has lifted billions out of poverty and benefited consumers of all nations, races, and genders. More importantly, it has encouraged states to look beyond their borders to improve things at home through an increase in choice and lower prices as well as more export opportunities. By facilitating and sustaining integrated supply chains, the success of international trade made states mutually dependent. For better or worse, the concept of the all-producing nation-state was dissolved in international trading relationships.

Trade protectionism originated as an aspiration to achieve self-sufficiency and reduce reliance on foreign supplies. At the outset of trade interventionism, uncontrollable factors such as the possibility of crop failure in other countries were used to justify import restrictions and the subsidising of domestic agriculture. The inconsistency of such a worldview was that countries that promoted self-reliance were in no way immune to bad harvests themselves and hence had to turn to others in their hour of need. 

China is currently being affected by 6490 harmful trade interventions, the highest in the world. Ironically, the origin of COVID19 also comes from the city of Wuhan in China. President Trump – known for his extremely hostile attitude to trade with China – even called it the “Chinese virus”. It sounds like an excellent excuse to introduce more tariffs in the future, doesn’t it?

Graph Harmful
Source: globaltradealert.org

The idea of national self-sufficiency sounds great on paper but it is very hard to achieve now that we have progressed so far with globalisation. From iPhones to agriculture and vital drugs, we are dependent on other countries, and especially on China. 

Even in the EU, lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed on national levels have resulted in new border checks causing traffic jams and supply delays. “All our food is getting to the warehouses — with delays — but it’s getting there,” said Bart Vandewaetere, vice president for government relations at Nestlé. In the worst-case scenario, we would be left without food on our shelves. Hence why the first thing governments should do before imposing emergency measures is ensuring the unrestricted and smooth flow of goods. 

We will wake up to a totally different world once the pandemic is over. More countries will likely want to move the needle away from globalisation and mutual dependency to avoid the spread of new viruses in the future. Though trade cannot halt the pandemic, it can help us get through it by ensuring that essentials make it to us thus mitigating some of its consequences. At all times, we need more trade, not less.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

No crisis unused: Eurocare argues for a ban on alcohol sponsorship in sports

While the world is battling the Coronavirus crisis, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (EUROCARE) is facing a different goliath: alcohol sponsorship… in sports? A head-scratcher of sorts, especially given that the sports industry will fall on hard times this year if COVID-19 drags on. With cancelled events and games, cutting the sports industry off from vital sponsorship income is cruel at best.

In the press release from EUROCARE, the group says:

“Millions of people – including children and young people – are exposed to alcohol sponsorship. The evidence is clear that alcohol marketing exposure is a cause of binge drinking and drinking onset among young people. It also influences their attitudes and increases their likelihood of developing problems with alcohol later in life.”

Naturally, these activists are not referring to specific evidence that points to this phenomenon. With children at a young age picking up smoking, including cannabis – both not advertised in any way – points to the conclusion that sponsorship is hardly the origin of substance abuse.

In fact, when we look at this problem we quickly figure out that it is not sponsorship in sports, or sponsorship altogether that is the problem for these groups, but alcohol in itself. They are the new prohibitionists, unable to halt until they have banned every last drop of fun. 

Ultimately, what sponsorship cannot be seen by children? Be it public advertisement in public transport or bus stops, or any TV channel or radio show: children can technically hear and see all advertising that adults have access to. The channels that are children-only already don’t feature these ads, and online portals such as YouTube allow for parental control that blocks all age-inappropriate pop-ups.

We should also stress that it should first and foremost be the obligations of parents to protect their children from harm, by educating them about appropriate and safe alcohol use. Delegating this responsibility to government agencies will culminate in an avalanche of bureaucracy that is not in the interest of consumer choice.

Banning ads in the name of protecting children is a backdoor to blatant bans on advertising for products altogether. Other vices are also at risk, as the press release also reveals:

“This research comes at a time when the place of gambling in sport has been called into question and we need to consider the propriety of linking any addictive and health-harming product with sport.”

The reality is this: consumers want products, and they want to enjoy vices such as alcohol. We should aim for responsible and educated consumers, as opposed to blatant patronising bans. Substance abuse is a real problem, yet we need to recognise that there are underlying problems that explain it, going beyond mere sponsorship. 

Whether or not alcohol is advertised has no impact on unemployment or any other personal hardship that leads to excesses in alcohol use. These problems need solving through different educational and social institutions, and most importantly through improved personal relationships. We as a society have responsibility to our friends and family, more than any governmental institution may proclaim to own.

Advertising plays an important role for consumers: it informs them about new and better products and allows for competition. Advertising is the extended arm of consumer choice, and ought to be protected.

No need for bailouts, just lower flight taxes

In an attempt to contain coronavirus, governments all across the world have imposed various travel restrictions. As it usually happens, the road to hell is paved with noble goals and good intentions. The airline industry that has made travelling between continents and cities more pleasant, time-efficient and affordable will, unfortunately, be hugely affected by these travel bans. 

In fact, the potential damage may end up being so extensive that some legacy and low-cost airlines will cease to exist and cheap tickets will only be a sweet memory from the past. This would be disastrous for consumer choice.

Not all is lost though. There are a number of ways in which governments can help the industry during these trying times. Bailouts usually come first to mind.  Airlines for America, the industry association for various U.S. airlines, has already asked for 50bn USD in support. Many more are likely going to follow. 

As the government is partly responsible for the upcoming downfall of airlines, it is understandable why airlines would seek its assistance in mitigating the damage. However, every bailout is a redistribution of taxpayers’ money without their consent. Do all taxpayers want their money to be used for saving bankrupt airlines? Have all of them travelled by plane at all? Or maybe they are more concerned with the threats posed by the pandemic and would prefer the government to channel their money into healthcare services? Probably the latter would make more sense given the current situation.

Once travel restrictions are lifted, consumers and passengers are going to be very happy to travel again. And in order to catapult the demand, governments should reduce taxes imposed on the tickets we buy. Not only will this help boost an industry without the need for bailouts, but it will also allow passengers of every income group to visit their families, attend meetings, and travel without any additional barriers. 

Every tax imposed on airlines makes the price of flying higher for consumers. Never believe it when governments say they are taxing airlines: it’s actually us consumers who foot the bill. And once the pandemic is over, our subjective value of travelling without limits will increase thus making us appreciate the miracles of air travel way more. We will want to fly more not less. Incentives in the form of lower prices – thanks to lower taxes- will be good news for every consumer.

We’ve started taking flying and travelling as such for granted, and the globalisation that was fostered by it has come under fire in light of the coronavirus outbreak. 

But these temporary bad times shouldn’t make us forget about the possibilities of air travel. Many of us are quarantining these days and feel trapped inside the four walls of our apartments. Skimming through our pictures from past travels and daydreaming about being able to visit more places makes it more bearable. 

When all this ends, we will want governments to ensure we can fly just like before, and as cheaply as possible. No need for bailouts, just lower flight taxes. This will make our post-coronavirus reality so much more enjoyable and guarantee a strong position for airlines for years to come.


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Pregnancy health warning labels are biased and flawed

When I was in the 7th form, our biology teacher showed us a smoker’s lung model followed by a brief explanation of the negative effects of smoking. But the model of the damaged lungs itself was enough to educate me, a 13-year-old, about the health consequences I would have to deal with if I ever choose to smoke. This is the essence of freedom that penetrates our adult lives: free choices made in full awareness of the responsibility that follows. Be it alcohol, cigarettes, or sugar. Complex maths formulas we are taught in school are important, but learning about the importance of preserving our consumer choice in the face of nannyism even more so. 

By introducing various obligatory warning labels such as  “smoking can cause a slow and painful death”, governments all around the world have been trying to compensate for failures of their education systems to effectively convey these messages. Because if everyone knows that smoking isn’t the healthiest habit, they won’t do it, right? 

No, they would and should be free to do so. If a consumer is determined to buy a pack of cigarettes, no warning label, and no tax will affect his behaviour. With a plethora of lifestyle regulations, nannying is now seen as inherent to governments. But this is wrong. It is the role of educational establishments to educate us about the effects of smoking or alcohol, but governments are there to guarantee we are able to exercise our freedom to choose as long as we do not cause harm to other people.

In February, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand announced its intention to make labelling on alcoholic drinks mandatory.  The new label will include the words “health warning” in bold red text, and “alcohol can cause lifelong harm to your baby”. How obvious, one would say. According to a poll conducted by YouGov, 70 per cent of Australians were aware that drinking while pregnant contributed to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. And yet some 70 per cent of respondents supported changing labels on alcohol bottles.

Nothing is wrong with Australians wanting to see warning labels on their alcoholic beverages. The question is whether it’s achieved through government compulsion or voluntarily. In Australia, the existing rules adopted in 2011 make using a symbol with a line through a silhouette of a pregnant woman drinking a glass of wine voluntary. It is of course in the interest of the industry to live up to the expectations of its consumers, but changes to the new labels would cost $400 million in producing new labels. The higher the price of production, the higher the price for consumers.

What about adult male and female (non-pregnant) consumers of alcohol? Is it fair that they would need to pay a higher price for alcoholic products to educate pregnant women about the negative effect of consuming alcohol during pregnancy? Pregnancy health warning labels are biased and ignore the interests of a far wider group of consumers who are hurt by such regulations. It really is cheaper, more sustainable and generally more socially beneficial to invest in proper school education. 

At a time when governments are increasingly targeting our consumer choice, we should be prepared to fight back. One drop of nannyism doesn’t make a storm cloud, but a huge accumulation of them does. I don’t like living in a world where I’m treated like a child who doesn’t know that an excess of alcohol, smoking, sugar and [insert other product deemed dangerous] else may cause harm and so needs to be directed away from them.  You?


The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

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