In the aftermath of this extraordinary Covid19 pandemic, there will be many inquiries and a nauseating amount of analysis around the world. The mainstream media – with documentary after documentary – will be finger-pointing for years. But I suspect it will all be irrelevant. Why?.. Because, had governments learned from previous viral outbreaks, they would have considered historical behaviour by the population and even themselves.
With the exception of the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, there has not been a state-imposed lockdown for over 100 years. Even in the 1918 pandemic, the public self quarantined before governments enforced it.
So how should government behave when the next pandemic arrives, as one inevitably will?
The obvious conclusions of this current pandemic cannot be avoided. More people will have died as a result of collateral economic hardship than the actual virus itself. In addition, many sick people, with genuine symptoms are putting their condition on the back burner in the belief they do not want to be a burden on the NHS at this point in time. On average, 60,000 people per month are NOT presenting themselves to the NHS, with the usual conditions relating to heart disease, cancer and other major, killer afflictions. They’re simply not bothering their local hospitals and GPs. In fact, health care officials are begging the population to come forward and seek medical consultations because A&E departments and doctors surgeries are virtually empty due to fear of either contracting the virus in these places or concern of being a distraction from the prevailing pandemic.
Who knows how many people will die as a result of the above behaviour, I doubt the true figure will ever be calculable, but it is obviously going to be considerably higher than those who have died of or with coronavirus put together.
So, what could the UK government – and for that matter – governments around the world, have done differently to avoid these needless, yet significant collateral ‘other deaths’?
My personal opinion is they could have made lockdown optional and not obligatory! But, with a compelling caveat!
This would require a small amount of pre-planning. Those who choose to self quarantine – on government advice, would be issued with some kind of ID that would entitle them to priority medical care, in the event they needed treatment, after showing symptoms or being diagnosed with the virus. Those who choose not to self-isolate, including the elderly, or people with existing conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus, would be issued with a different ID that only entitles them to treatment if there is capacity in their local health care system after those who have observed government advice have been fully treated.
By allowing choice, the government could eliminate the many vociferous detractors against enforced lockdown whilst, at the same time, keeping on-top of capacity. The public will have choice and be well aware of the consequences of that choice. Anyone caught violating their ID for voluntary lockdown would lose their priority health care privileges, conversely, those changing their minds in favour of receiving priority health care would need to prove they have self isolated for 2 weeks or so before being issued with new ID.
It goes without saying that various shops, bars and other businesses, that choose to remain open, will benefit from continuation of trade, providing services to those who decide to brave it out against government advice. This would save an enormous amount of government borrowing and subsidies. In effect there would be a two-tier approach. Herd Immunity would develop in those who continue to go about normal life, resulting in a less devastating second wave, which would benefit those coming out of lockdown, reducing their risk of coming into contact with a carrier.
The economy, the NHS and many local enterprises will also have benefitted from those who elected to ‘take the risk’!
Policing the two types of IDs would present some kind of challenge, but no more difficult than policing a total lockdown. Essential workers would be in a separate category with their own priority access to medical care.
In summary, the benefits of choice would do less harm than obligatory lockdown, because that section of the public who are currently objectors and sceptics would be suppressed by the privilege of preference.
Recent data suggests that only 215 of the 27,000 deaths attributed to COVID19 suffered solely from the disease and no other underlying medical condition as cause of death. If that is the case, The government would have trashed the economy for 0.00001% of the population.