Over three months after it was officially declared in the UK, we still have no tangible proof that the total (or full-scale) lockdown has actually worked. OK, let me be clear right at the beginning: I am talking about ‘total lockdown’ here, namely the full suspension of all businesses and activities – with the exception of some shops defined as essential – and the closure of all public spaces until further notice, with the aim of slowing down the Covid-19 outbreak, of ‘flattening the curve’ – the 2020 buzzword – as it has come to be known. Speculations about a possible second wave of Covid-19 (God forbid) come next autumn as temperatures drop, has begged the question: will the UK have to go into another total lockdown?
Let’s look at the examples of countries that did not adopt a full-scale lockdown strategy, such as Sweden and South Korea. Sweden closed schools for all over-16s and banned gatherings of more than 50, but only asked – rather than demanded – people to avoid non-essential travel and not to go out if they were elderly or ill. Shops, restaurants and gyms have all remained open. South Korea also did not choose to go into lockdown. Their strategy was based on three fundamental factors: mass testing, tracing and isolation. Basically speaking, get busy testing those with clear Covid-19 symptoms, as well as those who MIGHT have Covid-19, identify their journeys and those people they have been in touch with, and isolate all. On the other hand, the UK and Italy, as we all well know, went down the total lockdown path, although many argue that the UK had a slightly softer approach. So, who did better in curbing Covid-19?
To date, as mentioned earlier, there is still very little evidence that the full-scale lockdown actually worked. The curves drawn on all the graphs featuring the aforementioned countries more or less resemble each other, to the extent of their different testing and recording of the virus, of course. Be aware though: are the curves a result of our actions or are they just a manifestation of the way this virus is coming into equilibrium with us humans and its surroundings? It is very easy to make credible-sounding – and headline-worthy – arguments that what we are doing must be slowing the spread.
Covid-19 is said to have a symptom-free incubation period of about five days, and fatalities typically happen two or three weeks after showing symptoms. If the ‘Stay-At Home’ rule package actually worked, considering this time frame, you might have expected to see daily deaths spike about three or four weeks after these measures were implemented. In reality, daily deaths in hospitals plateaued only a fortnight after the total lockdown was introduced, so the UK might have actually reached its peak even before lockdown. Peak dates across Europe also seem to confound this theory.
The economic consequences of the total lockdown? Do you really want me to get started on those? The UK economy plummeted over 20 points (!) only after the first full month in lockdown, and 600,000 jobs were inexorably lost. Make no mistake: I am not just talking about numbers, but people’s livelihoods! People whose lives have been dramatically affected by these draconian measures. The poorest will always pay the highest price: over half of workers on hourly wages now face the sack, deprived areas all across the UK are predicted to be the worst hit by climbing unemployment. Meanwhile, in Italy, the job market has taken a hit and Spain’s endemic poverty has shot up. It has also been proven that lockdown is strictly linked to mental health issues and a steep rise in cases of domestic abuse. Are you really sure you want me to carry on with the list?
The stats on Covid-19 deaths are clear: countries should do everything in their power to help isolate the most vulnerable (the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions etc.), even placing them in special facilities if necessary, while the healthy carry on. A full-scale lockdown should never be on the cards.
South Korea should set an example for the world. The UK needs a government which is ready to respond when needed, that, especially in the event of a second outbreak, is able to take all the necessary measures on time, invest in PPE, order testing as widely as possible, and eradicate the virus before it is even offered the chance to spread. This is what needs to be done, not another total lockdown, whose damages outweigh by far the benefits (excuse me, what benefits, again?) and which does not coexist with our core Western values. Going into another total lockdown would be a total catastrophe.