April 22, 2020
Can we afford a second lockdown?
Easing the lockdown will not be the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Only a small fraction of people seem to be infected. First studies suggest that in most countries infection percentage rates are in the single digits. This is not enough for collective immunity as not enough people have developed antibodies against the new coronavirus. And there is no guarantee that those will not be infected again.
These are still early days of testing. Whether or not they get the numbers right depends on the testing method as well as the tests' reliability. Official statistics only grasp a small part of the picture and says little about those in the population that developed no symptoms and therefore were not tested. Random antibody tests may give a better picture, but the WHO finds that even those suggest low infection rates. A Stanford university study using antibody tests suggest that only 3% of the whole population in the hard-hit region of Santa Clara, in California, have been infected. Other studies use blood donations that tend to be biased towards healthy adults. A study of 7,000 blood donors in the Netherlands also found that just 3% had antibodies. The Institute Pasteur in France used models applied to hospital and death data to predict that only 6% of the French population will have been infected by the end of this lockdown in May. This may be on the low side, as earlier studies suggested 14% for France and Germany. But even these figures are nowhere near collective immunity.
Once in lockdown there is no way back to ride the wave out of the pandemic through collective immunity. This was a bifurcation of policy decision-making. The UK was first set on collective immunity before switching to complete lockdown. Now there is some serious money involved in keeping the economy floating. Can countries afford a second or third lockdown? If not, how will governments protect the public and restart the economy? Will it be through mandatory vaccines, if and when they become available, and more financial support? Could Sweden have gotten it right by opting for collective immunity? Their state epidemiologist said last week that he estimated that Stockholm would reach collective immunity in May based on their mathematical model. These results are only as good as the data they put in. But, compared with other countries, they are most certainly ahead in the curve towards collective immunity after choosing to leave schools, restaurants, cinemas, gyms, pubs and shops open.