Peru has more than 170,000 confirmed cases, despite taking the virus seriously early on. The president, Martín Vizcarra, ordered one of the first national lockdowns in South America. Though the official virus death toll stands at around 5,000, Peru had 14,000 more deaths than usual in May, suggesting that a growing number of people are dying at home as hospitals struggle to handle a flood of cases.
So should the Peruvians be taking to the streets to express outrage at the incompetence of all those heads of households where excess mortality has taken place? Or alternatively, should Peru’s hospitals just have warehoused up to 14,000 post-acute COVID patients in the excess space they had as they were struggling “to handle a flood of cases”?
We can only be thankful that the Peruvian government didn’t direct Peru’s nursing homes to accept expedited discharge of COVID positive patients from its hospitals. Because clearly, if only the Peruvians had lacked a credible answer as to where they would go, all those patients would have survived. It’s only when you have a credible answer as to the patient’s destination upon discharge that the patient suffers premature mortality.
“Hayekian” moral of the story: the key to keeping excess mortality low during a pandemic is not to have any determinate plan for discharge from hospitals for post-acute cases, as hospitals are managing an excess influx of acute cases. The minute some central planning authority insists on a discharge plan, people start to die. Best to rely on the dispersed, decentralized knowledge found in the market. As Hayek taught us, clinical outcomes are optimally brought about when there is no centralized coordination between ambulance squads, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. Surely the worst thing you could do is to bring all that knowledge together, and come up with a plan to deal with it in real time.