|The U.K. government has employed several local lockdowns, in the past few weeks, including a measure allowing authorities to press pause on local clusters to try to prevent community transmission. But critics say this can’t be a long-term strategy, and the U.K. must choose a new tack to navigate the crisis.
Whatever form this takes, it will entail some form of sacrifice of privacy and social freedoms. The whack-a-mole lockdowns pursued by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, are a “last resort when you feel a situation is getting out of control,” said Devi Sridhar, a global health professor at the University of Edinburgh, one that will lead to continuous lockdown and release cycles.
“You can lock down people once, you can do it twice, but three or four times it creates so much uncertainty,” she said.
Different countries offer different solutions, all attempting to tread the fine balancing act between public health and the economic necessity of reopening. But any choice demands something be sacrificed for the greater good.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern chose the country’s bitter pill early on, shutting down international borders and limiting freedom of international movement. Ardern bubbled New Zealand from the rest of the world leaving the nation with a total of just 22 deaths. The swift and draconian measures won her widespread support, and she’s polling at 61% in a recent survey heading into September’s election, though it remains to be seen if an outbreak of new cases dents her popularity.
South Korea, with just 237 deaths to date, was prepared through confronting the 2015 outbreak of MERS, another coronavirus that caused widespread illness and consternation there. The country is known for its a huge testing regime, but its success relied just as much on an effective track and trace system.
That meant that Koreans forfeited parts of their online privacy, providing personal information like GPS locations, card payments, and TV surveillance footage to an app that notifies anyone who has been in contact with an infected patient. A similar effort could allow the U.K. to avoid lockdown altogether, according to Rowland Kao, chairman of veterinary epidemiology and data science at Edinburgh. It need not be compulsory, he said, because residents would be likely to comply with a policy that worked toward their interests.
One way or the other, the population has to be protected before a vaccine comes along. We can’t have it all. The U.K. will have to pick its potentially life-saving poison.––Theo Golden