In every sphere of public activity, there has always been an acceptable level of deaths.
The obvious example is the number of deaths on the roads. In twelve months to June 1919, 1,870 people died on roads in the United Kingdom. Should the government wish to reduce that number to zero, it could introduce speed limits of 10-15 mph.
The social and economic cost of such a restriction would be massive: transport costs would escalate; journeys to and from work would become unfeasible; freedom of movement would become an option only for those with the means to spend days travelling to a destination.
Faced with the costs, and the public opposition, severely restrictive measures are considered inappropriate. The government will continue to introduce road safety measures, but these will be consonant with its other social and economic priorities.
In blunt terms, allowing the current speed limits to continue to operate means that the government considers there to be an acceptable number of deaths. Of course, no government spokesman would ever dare to risk the opprobrium that would follow if such an admission was made, but, when the option of bringing the number of deaths close to zero is available, not to pursue that option can only lead to the conclusion that a number in excess of a thousand a year is the accepted price of a social and economic order that depends upon swift transport.
Within government, there will be officials calculating what will be the acceptable number of deaths caused by Covid-19 that the public will accept in order to allow the economy and society to return to normal functioning.
It is a certainty that the lockdown cannot continue indefinitely, in practical terms, the economy would collapse. But there are less measurable factors that the government must consider, how long will it be before social cohesion is eroded? How long will it be before more and more people decide that their activity or journey is among those that are “essential” and the roads and the streets become busy again? How long will it be before small businesses and traders decide that they will no longer accept rules that favour the supermarkets and large businesses?
A figure of 20,000 deaths has been suggested as a possible best scenario. The circulation of that figure suggests that this will be the number considered to be tolerable if it allows the resumption of normal life.
Should such an idea seem unacceptable, ask why the national speed limit is 60 mph and not a figure far lower. Deaths are accepted as the price of other priorities.