Optimalnost pravočasnega lockdowna (2): Rešitev je v pravočasnosti in ne v ekstremnosti ukrepanja

Tim Harford v Financial Timesu: odgovor na optimalni boj proti epidemiji leži v pravočasnosti ukrepanja in ne v ekstremnih pozicijah glede ukrepanja: švedski scenarij vs. lockdown.

But there is an honest argument against lockdowns — namely that while the disease is dangerous, the lockdown cure is worse. The virus has the power to kill many more people than died in the first wave. Yet in England and Wales, the vast majority of those who have died were 65 or over, with three-quarters of them aged 75 or over.

The honest lockdown sceptic asks, is it wise or fair to impose radical limits on the freedom of all with no apparent end in sight? Thousands of lives are being saved — but millions of young people are seeing their prospects sacrificed.

Is their sacrifice worthwhile?

The zero-Covid position reaches the opposite conclusion from the same starting point: since there will be no end to the suffering as long as the virus is circulating, the answer is to eliminate the virus in the UK and Ireland. We are island nations, like New Zealand. If community transmission can be stopped, then border controls — plus contact tracing for the occasional outbreak — can keep the virus out.

Sweden, darling of the sceptics, has done important things right — notably, kept schools open for younger pupils. It has preserved individual freedoms, which is no small matter. But it has suffered vastly more deaths than its Nordic neighbours for no discernible economic benefit. It is hardly a slam-dunk case against lockdowns.

In summary: zero-Covid looks like a prohibitively expensive quest for a fleeting goal. But the death toll and endless grind of damn-the-consequences reopening looks equally unacceptable, and it is telling that many lockdown sceptics have been unwilling to be frank about the true dangers of the virus.

Is there no answer? Of course there is. It lies not in the extreme ends of the debate, but in the tedious, complex business of basic public health. Lockdowns can work if they allow a properly run contact-tracing programme to take over.

Consider Germany. It slowed the first wave by establishing a test-and-trace capacity quickly. The German lockdown thus came much earlier on the epidemic curve, saving many lives but also ensuring that the country could reopen after just six weeks — despite being nowhere near Independent Sage’s definition of “control”.

Since then, Germany has learnt to live with the virus as a constant yet contained threat. The secret is no secret: lockdown suppressed the virus enough to allow contact tracing, mask-wearing and general vigilance to take over. In July, at a time when the British were still emerging from their homes, blinking in the sunlight, I visited Bavaria. Masks and sanitisers were everywhere, but it was thriving.

Vir: Tim Harford, Financial Times

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