The story so far. As most European countries are moving towards lock-down – Eurpoe is officially the epicentre for the world pandemic having taken this role on from China – the UK government is following its own path despite massive criticism from 100s of doctors and experts. We are not trying to contain the disease. We are trying to roll it out across the population in a controlled way so that it is eventually defeated by ‘herd’ immunity. There is no vaccine and one wont come along in time anyway so we will be vaccinating our population by giving them the disease. Most will recover (the death rate is estimated between 1% and 3%) and develop the required antibodies.
In order for there not to be massive death and the total inundation and collapse of the NHS, the vulnerable, particularly the elderly over 70s, will be kept in isolation mainly at home for as many months as it takes. When they are eventually let out the disease will have been eradicated as there will be no hosts or infected people to pass it on.
This is a risky strategy. The NHS may still be unable to cope and the death toll will still be massive. The disease may not be eradicated by this strategy of herd immunisation and when the elderly are let out the virus will have a field day.The virus can evolve and mutate and visit us i a different form. Maybe in the long term we will have a flu vaccine that will deal with it but this will be too late for 100s of thousands, possibly millions.
I’m not sure of an accurate figure for the percentage of the population who are 70 and over but it is at least 12%. The vast majority of these are designated economically inactive but none the less they make a significant contribution to the economy in two ways – their unpaid work in the voluntary sector and child care and their role as consumers of goods and services. Just one example: many grandparents look after their grandchildren while their children go to work. If and when schools are closed, as is happening across Europe, parents will have their ability to work seriously compromised.
Of course the alternative to the UK policy would be to follow what the rest of Europe is doing – general social exclusion and closure. The problem with this, one the government is trying to avoid, is economic meltdown. The plus side is that it has been shown to save lives. The government is weighing up what balance it wants to achieve between the extent of the death toll and the extent of economic damage. Critics say they are prioritising the economy.