It Pays to be Positive?

Hong Kong will give $645 dollars to all those who accept to be tested for Covid19 and are positive. The number of cases, and deaths, are on the rise in Hong Kong but everything seems under control, given the fact Hong Kong’s population is 7.4 million. Lombardy, where I live, is the home of 10 million people and since the start of the pandemic we have had more than 180.000 cases and some 20.000 deaths.

Yet this is understandably an outcome the Hong Kong authorities want to avoid, and so they are putting in place a system that incentivizes testing in this way. We will see how it goes. Income per capita in Hong Kong is around $ 50,000. I suspect that, everywhere, higher-income people, as they tend to be more exposed to the media, are eager to test no matter what. If there is a certain reluctance in lower-income people to test, perhaps because they fear the consequences of quarantine in terms of their work and their social life, perhaps subsidies such as Hong Kong’s might well counteract this wariness (I suppose it was designed with that goal in mind).

One wonders why Western democracies didn’t try to do the same. After all, they have all distributed a staggering amount of money in the last few months. Linking some of it to testing would not have hurt – though of course if the subsidy was too high you could imagine some opportunistic behavior (including attempts to playing with the test’s results to score positive, to the extent that’s possible). I fear that’s because the testing capacity wasn’t there. Now it seems a similar approach might be enacted in Italy, too. Perhaps in the hope of saving the upcoming skiing season, the province of Bozen, in South Tyrol (a German-speaking region of Italy), has tested 70% of its population (over 350.000 people) in just a few days, with antigenic tests. People there are notoriously very law-abiding, but that’s not the same everywhere. Why should we rule out the idea that a monetary incentive could help?

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