Covid-19: the right way to leave lockdown | The Economist

published on July 2, 2020

Around the world, people are beginning to contemplate a life after lockdown

China appeared to have passed the worst

Some of Spain is returning to work

Germany is due to end social-distancing measures in a week’s time

And governments are grappling with what to do next

With no way to eradicate covid-19

and the ever-present risk of a resurgence

What’s the right way to leave lockdown?

Placing more than a third of the world’s population under lockdown

has done much to slow the spread of the new coronavirus

But there’s a big price to pay

The problem is that it’s incredibly damaging to the economy

And that has real consequences for people’s lives

The lockdown is really just a very intense form of social distancing

and you want to relax that as much as possible

So, you want to work out which elements of the social distancing

have the most effect on the disease

but the least effect on the way people lead their lives

The trouble is, no one is certain what the right formula is

So governments will need to strike a delicate balance

and take a very cautious approach to which measures they loosen

how and when

Take, for example, the tricky question of getting children back to school

Countries like Denmark and Germany have looked at reopening schools

although under very strict conditions

which means you have a sort of social distancing within the classroom

Good luck with that

As with other social-distancing measures

making the wrong call on this could lead to a resurgence of the disease

But given the broad impact of school closures

on children and their parents

and that young children in particular may not be as vulnerable

to the effects of covid-19

there is a case for trying to reopen schools

sooner rather than later

China has already pioneered the use of social-distancing measures

within schools to enable them to reopen

So far, the country has avoided a second wave of infection

which is why there may be other lessons to learn

from China’s staggered return to daily life

from capping the number of people allowed in restaurants

and public places

to severely limiting the number of workers

that firms can have on site each day

Social distancing isn’t a binary phenomenon

The way to think of it is a series of measures, each of which

does a little bit to reduce the spread of the disease

at a particular inconvenience or cost to the society

An element of trial and error is inevitable

which means governments will need to be prepared

to tighten the rules again if new infections start to mount

A second element, which helps you with all of that

is testing and contact-tracing

To detect people who have the disease

identify all the people they’ve been in touch with

contact them, test them, put them in isolation

If any of them are infectious, then you contact the people

that they’re in touch with

Tracking the virus in this way is an essential strategy

if countries are to become less dependent on social distancing

You can concentrate all that effort on the people

who are most likely to have the disease

A corollary of that is the people who you don't have to contact

are freer to move around than they otherwise would be

It’s a huge task but technology may be able to offer a short cut

Apple and Google are teaming up to work on technology

to help reduce the spread of coronavirus

To help deliver contact-tracing to Americans and people around the world

The idea is that when Apple and Android phones can work together

and be in touch with each other, if someone is infected

you can go back over the log that shows you

all the people that they’ve been in touch with

and identify very, very rapidly

you know, who the contacts have been and then direct your testing to them

Germany, Ireland and America are among the countries

now building infection-tracking apps that could run on

Apple and Google’s new protocol

Governments could use these apps to create a form of covid-19 passport

classifying individuals by whether they’ve tested positive or not

That’s a system that you’ve had used pretty thoroughly in China

such that people have to show their phone

and show they’ve got a green status, which means they can travel around

But to feel the benefits of this innovative approach

governments are going to have to really invest

It doesn’t work unless you also have an army of testers

to go around and follow up these leads

test all the people, ensure that they’re keeping their quarantine

Research suggests that America alone would need to employ

another 100,000 contact-tracers, at a cost of around $36bn

The other thing is you need the physical tests

you need the reagents, you need all the materials

and you need them manufactured on immense scale

Without this, further lockdowns could become inevitable

The less good your testing and the less good your contact-tracing

the more general and harmful actually

the lockdown has to be in order to create the same effect

You have a big, broad net

to catch the same number of infectious people

A third element is to make your health system more robust

When health systems get swamped

then the number of deaths really goes up fast

So, you can invest now in equipping medics with all the protection they need

having enough ventilators, having enough ICU beds

Which means that if the disease does start to pick up

the consequences are less bad

Of course, there’s the ultimate way to return to daily life

Scientists in Oxford are hoping to have a million doses

of a coronavirus vaccine by September

Three vaccines are already in clinical trials

two in the United States, one in China

There are many vaccine candidates in development

In the year or more it may take to deliver an effective vaccine

governments should be preparing for the next challenge

producing it

Finding the vaccine’s one thing

but then you have to manufacture it at scale

And that will be really quite hard

Part of the answer is to start building manufacturing plants now

at a cost of billions of dollars

before an effective vaccine has been found

Without this investment there’ll be a shortage of manufacturing capacity

And as long as there is a shortage

some countries are likely to push to the front of the queue

There is a danger that different countries try and

corner the market for their own citizens

which is understandable, but not very good for the world

because it means that vulnerable populations

and really key workers like health-care workers

who need protection in order to care for everybody else

They will go short

Locating manufacturing plants across the world

could help counter this “vaccine nationalism”

and ensure the vaccine reaches those most in need

Long before there’s any vaccine to be distributed

governments have more pressing calls to make

on the right way to leave lockdown

With few certainties to guide them

they’ll need to be nimble, versatile

and have vast reserves of patience for a return to everyday life

that will be anything but business as usual

Hi, I’m Edward Carr The Economist’s deputy editor

It’s amazing, in just how a few short months

the coronavirus story has come to dominate everything we do

So if you’d like to see more of our coverage

please click on the link opposite

Thank you for watching

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