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COVID-19 – Is the Latest Lockdown Proving Effective?

With Christmas almost on the horizon, the UK government is under pressure to get soaring COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations, and deaths under control. On 5th November 2020, the latest ‘lockdown’ came into force in England, which started after the Welsh lockdown which spanned 23rd October to 9th November. Many would agree, however, that the current lockdown in England feels very different to the first which started on 23rd March 2020, after Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told us we ‘must’ stay at home. After two weeks of lockdown in England, are there any positive signs that it is working? In this article, we will look at whether the latest COVID-19 lockdowns in the UK are proving effective in reducing the rate of deaths and cases.

What Are The Latest COVID-19 Stats For England?

According to the latest government statistics on COVID-19, between 31st January and 17th November 2020, 1,410,732 people received a positive COVID-19 test result. Up to 16th November 2020, the UK saw 52,744 deaths within 28 days of a positive Coronavirus test. Nearly 200,000 have been hospitalised with COVID-19, and as of 16th November 2020, there were 1,391 Coronavirus patients in hospital beds with a mechanical ventilator.

On 17th November 2020, there were 598 COVID-19 related deaths, representing the second-highest level since 12th May, when 614 people died.

Is The Current Lockdown Reducing The Rate Of COVID-19 Cases And Deaths?

Being only two weeks into the lockdown, it is not possible to conclude whether it is reducing COVID-19 spread. This is because of the time lag between contracting the virus and showing any signs or symptoms which may then lead to a test being taken. According to Prof Kevin McConway, Emeritus Professor of Applied Statistics at the Open University “If a person, unfortunately, dies from COVID-19, that would typically be two or three weeks after they first had symptoms of the infection…so maybe the current measures to reduce new infections are having an effect, but it’s too early to see that in death registrations. But we absolutely can’t be sure of that yet.”

Whatever Happened To The COVID Alert Level System?

As readers of our articles will know, the COVID Alert Level system was announced by the Prime Minister on 12th October 2020, specifically only for England. The idea was to have three tiers or alert levels (medium, high, and very high), which were implemented based on how fast the virus was spreading in individual areas. The scheme was supposed to be simple and standardised.

The guidance on the new lockdown said, “On Thursday 5th November these national restrictions replaced the Local Covid Alert Level measures. The new measures will apply nationally for four weeks up to and including Wednesday 2nd December. At the end of that period, we will return to a regional approach, based on the latest data”. This suggests that the COVID Alert Levels will make a comeback once the national lockdown is lifted, but in what form is not clear, and nor is it clear when the lockdown will have been deemed effective. There have been suggestions that a fourth tier may be introduced, adding a stricter regime for areas with exponentially rising numbers of cases.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has been highly critical of the alert level system, describing it as “inadequate” and “inconsistent”; “The previous tiered system was inadequate and inconsistent in the way it was applied and did not contain spread of the virus”. “The tiered system must be urgently revised, with agreed ‘triggers’ for moving up and down a tier”. “With any reintroduction of the tiered system, the government must clarify the rules on travel between different tiers.” As a result, the BMA have drawn up a blueprint for a better system. In the words of Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, “We must not squander the efforts of the many people who have followed the law, stayed at home, sacrificed freedoms and incurred financial loss in order to contain the virus….This report demonstrates a sustainable plan for reducing the level of infections from Covid-19 until a vaccine programme is underway”. The recommendations include:

  • clear “triggers” for when areas should be moved up and down a tier
  • restriction of non-essential travel between areas with higher and lower rates
  • replacing the “rule of six” with a “rule of two households”
  • encouraging social mixing to take place outdoors
  • a more robust quarantine procedure
  • an “airline safety style” video telling people how to properly wear masks

The report also argues for greater clarity for hospitality businesses, “Crowded restaurants and pubs with little social distancing, as seen after the first lockdown, encouraged by the eat out to help out initiative, represent a danger to public health”. And crucially, the BMA reiterates that the track and trace system must be fit for purpose.

Final Words

The truth is that there is no lack of expertise to tackle Coronavirus in the UK. It may be argued that what is missing is a willingness to defer decision making to scientists rather than politicians. Countries such as Taiwan had a well-established protocol for handling pandemics which meant they could act quickly to implement manual and digital contact tracing systems.

They were even able to access travel histories to quickly find and isolate individuals at risk of having contracted the virus. If anyone is in any doubt, just look at the death rate in Taiwan (a country of nearly 24 million people). So far, they have seen only seven deaths, the last one being on 11th May. And as of yesterday (17th November), they recorded only two new cases. They did this by activating their Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) in January before the virus took hold. The CECC’s role was to coordinate cooperation between government ministries, agencies, scientists, and businesses, and leveraging the power of big data analytics for testing, quarantine and contact tracing. The examples of Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea, and many other countries should act as a beacon of hope and an exemplar for how to handle this and any future pandemic.

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