Its’ very hard to see why the British government’s current policy of not enforcing an immediate lockdown makes sense. Lockdown seems so much simpler and so much safer than delaying.
(Before I go on I want to say that I really struggled to know whether to push publish on this. After sharing it with some people whose opinions I trust I decided to do so. I did so in order that it might help you understand, because it helped my understanding tremendously to write it. I’m not trying to defend the UK position, just to understand it).
(I’ve tried to only discuss facts and use metaphors only sparingly where they help illustrate the logic. I’ve also put my personal views in braces like these first two paragraphs. Treat this no more weightily than you would a conversation with one of your friends)
1. As soon as schools close they will force a lot of healthcare workers to return from the frontline to look after their children. It also means many children stay with grandparents and risk infecting them. I have spoken with a journalist who is very informed and currently interviewing many experts each day. He said that the expert view is that that children are not only less affected by Covid-19 but they are apparently proving to be less infectious. While there is apparently very much disagreement about the logic of a full-scale lockdown, as of the time of writing, the majority of them do support keeping schools open.
2. Just for a minute, play out the scenario where a UK lockdown is instigated and it works. Covid cases go down to zero. The UK would then be clear but what about the rest of the world? Until a few days ago, China was also clear but as of today they are reporting six new, cases imported from elsewhere. (How would we remain clear of Covid — can we keep borders locked down indefinitely?) I have asked many informed people but nobody’s been able to explain why we wouldn’t get reinfected. Or why those places who’ve so far fought it back won’t be gripped by it again. (Can all affected nations be locked down simultaneously? Can we withstand a lockdown all the way until summertime and what is our confidence that summertime would stop the spread?)
3. A lockdown that prevents people buying things or interacting also starts immediately damaging businesses, revenues and people’s pscyhe. (Lockdown is like chemotherapy for a nation. It kills the disease but it damges the rest of the body too). Every passing week of lockdown in Italy will bankrupt more restaurants, hotels, retailers, travel companies & manufacturers. More people will be pushed over the economic edge, more suicides. There is a point for many people where the damage to a body from chemotherapy is greater than that of the cancer.
4. For this reason the government believes that people will only tolerate it for so long. (I personally would also imagine that the better it works the harder it is to convince people to believe it’s necessary — like properly finishing a course of antibiotics). This suggests that a lockdown is a tool we can only use for a limited period before people lose the will to maintain it. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other more nuanced containment strategies that could be deployed. I’m referring to just the current discussion of a full-scale lockdown.
5. Extending the duration of Covid also means extending the diversion of all healthcare away from its normal efforts. Healthworkers dedicated to fighting this pandemic aren’t now doing any of the work that healthworkers normally do. And their normal job is to save lives. A massively extended lockdown in order to save lives from Covid will remove resources from cancer, from injuries and from other sicknesses and from maternity care.
6. Even if we can only use it once, why not use it immediately? (This feels by far the most contentious part of this debate). The logic that the government explained during their press conference was that: if you accept that Covid has to run its course, and you accept that the citizens will only accept a lockdown for a temporary period, then you have to be careful to deploy it at the time when it’s most useful. According to the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, ex-president of R&D at Glaxo Smith Kline, it is most useful for the health service if it is used during the peak growth period of infection. That peak is expected to be 6–8 weeks away. (And would expect that if we use the lockdown now, and works but we Covid reignites and we need a second lockdown later, it will be hard to convince the nation, who will have then seen it fail once already, to repeat it.) The Government have implied that it is a resource that can only be deployed once and so the plan is to wait until it has its greatest effect on the healthcare system. Which is apparently over that peak load period.
(This description of the lockdown reminded me of of archers in a battle — they hold their arrows steady until the enemy is frighteningly close. Only then do they loose their arrows so that as many as possible fall on the enemy and not on the ground in front of them)
These considerations literally make my head spin and my stomach churn. This is so much bigger than it’s possible to comprehend and there are no answers in what I have written. But I’m afraid that when these things aren’t at least discussed it risks political pressure that could force decisions that are more damaging than helpful.
(NB None of this means that it doesn’t make sense to isolate yourself and your loved ones immediately. It absolutely does and that will protect you . However your decison to do so is very different from the government’s decision to impose it on you. Especially if you didn’t want to do it in the first place).