This is a very difficult question to answer. Firstly, are we talking economic, social, environmental or human cost?
Eventually a figure will be published of the economic cost of Covid, but there are so many factors that will go into calculating such a cost that it will be difficult to dissemble. It is estimated by the office for budget responsibility that the estimated borrowing for the current financial year to 5 April 2021 will be £394bn, compared to a planned £55bn (pre crisis planning), that is an uplift of £339bn, over 600%.
That is just one financial year, the economic impact of the pandemic will be longer lasting and will change the economic landscape for ever.
The cost will be made up of not only the obvious physical items that have been needed in the fight against the virus, such as PPE, vaccines, infrastructure etc but also more intangible costs such as businesses going under, resources directed away from regular work to focus on tackling covid, increased unemployment. We cannot forget the numerous grants and subsidies that the chancellor has introduced to try and give businesses a chance of survival, business grants, furlough scheme, self employed income support scheme, arts grants, rates grants, stamp duty holidays, funds to help school pupils to have access to technology for remote learning.
Costs in social terms has been great too, loneliness has been ramped up by lockdown and social distancing measures, I have not been able to hug my youngest son since before Christmas, and it is painful. Suicide rates are expected to have increased due to a deterioration in the mental health of the nation, this is supported by evidence from previous epidemics. The lack of, or assumed lack of, emotional support available during the pandemic along with a lack of physical contact. Children who have been away from school are missing out on the necessary social lessons that they learn by being part of a school community.
Environmentally, it has been a disaster. As a matter of necessity, disposable gloves, aprons and other PPE have been used in unprecedented amounts. We went from trying to reduce our use of single use plastic to using it quicker than it could be supplied. Once the pandemic is fully under control and the world starts to heave a sigh of relief, attention will return to the environment and more drastic measures could well be introduced, and to be honest, they are needed.
The highest cost is of course, that of human lives. You cannot put a monetary value on a life, every soul lost to this virus is mourned and that is irreparable.
To conclude, the cost, in every sense, is huge.