Citizens of the UK have watched on as their European neighbours have taken seemingly drastic measures to halt the spread of COVID-19, with Italy on total lockdown, schools closing across the continent and travel to the US restricted.
Many are wondering why the UK, with 590 cases at the time of writing, has not taken equally radical measures in order to stop the outbreak of the virus. The UK government is not foolhardy and have made their strategy very clear. Whilst shutting schools, closing borders and quarantining the country may seem like the correct approach on paper, it would more than likely do more harm than good at this moment in time.
The UK is taking a scientific approach to effectively managing the outbreak, acknowledging the capacity of its public services. They are not enacting measures such as meaningless foreign travel bans that are reactionary and save face.
As outlined in a press conference this afternoon, PM Boris Johnson, the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Advisor outlined that the key to understanding the correct approach to tackling a viral outbreak is this graph. In order to flatten the curve, people must be taking personal precautionary.
The black line details where we currently are at this stage of the outbreak, with the government making no secrets that the number of infections will increase, stating that they believe between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the UK are already infected. In terms of the government’s response however, they asserted that the timing of responses is crucial in mitigating other knock-on effects would worsen the situation unnecessarily.
The Chief Medical Officer stressed that measures should not be taken in advance of need whilst we are still in the early stages of the outbreak, responses must be timed in accordance with the graph. An important thing to note is that the government has said that eventually, measures such as enforced isolation, the closing of schools and banning of mass gatherings will occur in the coming weeks, but they are not necessary at this moment in time. We will go through the reasons, as detailed by the experts, as to why taking premature measures could cause unintended effects.
The outbreak is projected to last between 13-16 weeks, and the government have decided not to introduce mass quarantine and social distancing at this early stage. The outbreak is now at a point where it cannot be contained simply by introducing these measures, hence why we have moved out of the ‘containment’ phase and into the ‘delay’ phase.
If drastic measures are taken too early, the population will become fatigued with self-isolation and quarantine measures. Whilst people may be enthusiastic to contain the virus in these early stages, by the time the peak has come, (which could be weeks or months away). Discipline with self-isolation and social distancing will wane if the measures are taken too early and this period of measurement implementation is too long. The key is to make sure the enthusiasm and morale of the public is at its peak, when the rate of infection is at its peak, and not prematurely.
If the most vulnerable, the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are forced to self-isolate or socially distance themselves too early, then this could have profound effects on their lives. This includes increasing loneliness dramatically were they to be isolated from society for months on end, which will cause a social depression, not just an economic one.
President Trump’s decision to halt all travel from Europe (bar the UK) has already received a damning response from the international community. It is seen as an act that merely saves face in the wake of his blasé response to the pandemic. The UK government has, so far, moved away from reactionary responses that would, on the face of it, calm the public and make it seem as though they were taking decisive action, yet have little practical effect.
A statistic that seemed to shock the journalists in the room was cited by the Chief Scientific Adviser was that if the UK had stopped flights from China at the beginning of the outbreak, even if it had had a 95% effect, it only would have delayed the outbreak by a day or two. A more realistic target would have been a 50% effect, which would have had minimal effects. The UK government is trying to mitigate the effects on the lives of its citizens in this early stage of the pandemic, and not taking measures that will damage the economy whilst not actively slowing the rate of infection.
The Chief Medical Officer affirmed that it is no longer relevant where someone has come from, and whilst travel restrictions may ensue depending on future developments, it is not yet necessary to impose these restrictions.
Schools and Universities
In the event of any crises or even poor weather, the first institution to close are schools. Schools are seen as a site in which people are in close contact and effectively attending mass, dynamic gatherings every day.
However, in the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, the case is rather different. Firstly, the rate of infection amongst young people is exceedingly low, with no recorded cases of death amongst 4,600 being under the age of 9. Young people are still prone to the virus; however, it is often far less severe.
The Chief Scientific Adviser stresses that closing schools prematurely could have an adverse effect on containing the virus, he stated that “the chances of stopping kids from being in contact with each other for 13-16 weeks is practically zero” with children not at school, they will likely stay with relatives, play on the street and not be at school in the day. From this, there is more likelihood they could come into contact with the elderly as they may go and stay with grandparents or relatives, and indivertibly cause an increased rate of infection before the peak has been reached.
The UK has taken a different approach to most countries, yet it is imperative to believe that the government has our best interests at hand. The government has stressed it is important not to implement measures that sound sensible, yet have little effect on the containment of the virus, rather are extremely damaging to other issues. Measures such as Trump’s travel ban are preposterous and are blatantly an attempt to save face, and whilst this may sound harsh, why would one ban travel from Europe, yet exclude the UK? It is illogical.
Whilst I have frequently used the words infection, quarantine and other terms that may sound alarming, I highly recommend you watch the press conference held this afternoon here, it will put your mind at ease and help you understand why the government is acting in the manner that it is.
The response is based on science rather than impulse. Especially in the case of a health crisis, it is imperative to put political posturing aside and do what is right for the country, not for one’s political ambitions.
Featured image courtesy of businesstelegraph.co.uk