Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about coronavirus, COVID-19, and the many plans that different countries are using to alleviate the spread of this infection. The major aim of these efforts is to ‘flatten the curve’ so that the healthcare systems do not get flooded and experience an overload of serious cases of COVID-19 at the same time. These strategies, modelled in a report by Imperial College London, include home isolation of cases, home quarantine, social distancing, social distancing of people over 70, and closures of schools and universities. For the healthcare systems to be able to cope effectively, this study predicts that a number of these measures must be put in place not just for a few weeks but for many months, perhaps going into 2021. Many countries have currently adopted these strategies to a greater or lesser extent. All countries except the UK, that is, where up until late last week there were no mitigation strategies against COVID-19, except for the population to build up ‘herd immunity’ naturally. Herd immunity is a form of immunity that occurs when a high percentage of the population becomes immune to an infection either through natural means or vaccination, leading to a break in the chain of infection which slows the spread of the infection.
Herd immunity for smallpox, a vicious viral disease, was achieved by proactive global vaccination programmes, resulting in the disease being eradicated. Never has herd immunity been tested on a human population with an unknown virus and an unavailable vaccine. This idea by Boris Johnson and his administration in the UK was not only crazy but a very dangerous human experiment. The approach has finally changed in the UK over the last few days where it was announced that people should ‘avoid public gatherings’ or ‘visiting friends’, and that they should ‘work from home’—the same social distancing measures that have been in place here in Ireland for at least a week or more. According to the Imperial College London report, if these combined measures are introduced, the peak healthcare demands in the UK would be reduced by two-thirds and the deaths would be reduced by half. This would still mean an estimated 250,000 deaths. Schools are now set to close in the UK at lunchtime on Friday. By delaying the implementation of these measures, the question is—has the horse truly bolted?