Monthly Archives: March 2020

Covid-19 and Game theory


Could this crisis be a successive build-up of more and more restrictions according to the decisions of the players involved? I am not at all an expert in game theory but I want to share some thoughts.


The virologist

The virologist is asked by the politician what to do as there seems to be a pandemic coming. The virologist has two options to offer:

Option A: do nothing

Option B: do quarantine

With option B the virologist has far less responsibility because the result is a) in the future and b) it is not he but others who implement the restrictions. When asked later, he can always say «I spoke from the perspective of a virologist, I am not a politician …» what is, of course, correct.

But option A makes him practically alone responsible for the outcome. If the catastrophe comes, he will be blamed for all future deaths. Therefore the virologist chooses B.

The politician

The politician sitting on coals due to all the frightening media reports – has two options:

Option A: do nothing

Option B: do quarantine

As long as possible he chooses option A because of economics. But then the media heats up the situation and neighboring countries take measures so he gets uncomfortable. If others take measures but he not, all will blame him. So he does what other countries do: take measures (option B) and deflects responsibility to experts and others.


After imposing restrictions, improvement is needed at all cost. The politician has three options:

Option A: end restrictions

Option B: continue with balanced & adapted restrictions

Option C: constantly increase restrictions

Option A is impossible as it would directly contradict the step taken before. It would look like a confession of the wrong decision.

The measures must bring positive results. If the more extreme measures were needed or not can only be verified much later and not with 100% accuracy so all strict measures will be right for now. Option B, on the other hand, even if it were the better option bears a big risk that people will complain that he didn’t do enough.  If more restrictions would improve the situation nor not is just secondary. The risk of «he didn’t do enough» looms to frightening.

Option C is the safe bet: Even if the draconic measures will just have a slightly higher chance of reducing the infections, it will be impossible later to discern if the measures were truly necessary or not (or the findings come months of years later when the public does not care any more).

«We tried everything possible» (Nb. possible not best) is the slogan. So the politician will rather increase restrictions for some time.

Back to normal

With time – a few weeks to a few months – the public longs for and expects that things become normal again. As people long for it, the politician can now reduce the restriction step by step to please people. If the reductions of restrictions do not create a spike in infections then the decision will be accepted as everyone wants them.


Let’s see the crisis as a change. One looser is already obvious: the free market and capitalism do not solve the crisis.

But Solidarity does.



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