When should countries end their pandemic lockdown?
Nationwide lockdowns or shelter in place notices have been a common measure put in place internationally to curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in an effort to contain the virus, slowing the rate of spread with the aim of not overwhelming healthcare services. Many countries advised citizens to work from home where possible, closed none essential businesses and recommended people only leave home to buy groceries, in addition to other measures to encourage social distancing by minimising social contact. However this approach has had a considerable economic cost and numerous countries are already seeking to end these measures. As fears are still high moves to return to normal have been controversial with public health officials worried about a second spike of infections, and others doubting the severity of the virus and arguing the economic and social impacts of a lockdown will be more deadly than COVID-19. With this in mind when is the best time for leaving lockdown or ending shelter in place? When should countries end their pandemic lockdown?
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When “R” falls beneath one
As cautiously as possible
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When “R” falls beneath one
Epidemiologists measure a disease’s rate of spread using the “basic reproduction number” (or “R”) which is measured by mathematical models to convey the expected number of cases of a disease that will be generated by one case in a population. This is popularly understood as the vulnerability of a society to a disease. If a societies R is more than one it demonstrates the disease will move through the society relatively quickly, with an R of 1.2 meaning 100 people will infect 120, and similarly an R of less than one generally represent a slowing in the spread of the virus. For this reason country’s such as the UK are integrating the R number into their calculations on when to end or reduce the severity of their lockdown, with an R of less than one indicating a decrease in the rate of spread, societies can begin or end lockdown and social isolation with this as a scientific guideline.
When easing lockdown measures countries need to move as slowly as possible, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic and you cannot put a price on human life. For example, during a dispute over the UK Government’s guidelines for reopening state schools on June the first, the British Medical Association sided with various teachers unions, saying the government guidelines were “too fast, too confusing and too risky” . This was prompted by a muddled speech from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on May 10th in which he gave conflicting information and laid out a patchy plan to ease the UK’s lockdown, the speech was followed by massive overcrowding on London’s public transport just the next day. This all comes at a time when a number of children have died from a unknown Kawasaki-like disease that seems to be an emergent trend linked with COVID-19, there are still clearly many unknowns, and while it is different for every country, societies should be moving slowly and acting cautiously.