The 2019 CoVid-19 pandemic has not ended, and may not end for many a month, even years. While it is difficult look to the past for guidance and then to look forward with any certainty, we still need to try. There are two country strategies that I see in the world: 1) All-out zero tolerance containment, and 2) balance between public health and country economy. It is with certainty that the pandemic has decimated world economies. The question is what strategy is best suited to get out of this pandemic.
All-Out Zero Tolerance Containment
This strategy is quick and blunt. Areas are locked down, contact tracing is quick and thorough, the infected and any other people that contacted them are isolated for 14 or more days, returning travelers are isolated at government hotels until cleared. There is a zero tolerance to the virus, and lockdowns continue until all cases are eradicated. This strategy has been done by China, HK, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand.
Lockdowns are brutal to people’s economic and mental health. You essentially force them into home incarceration. Sometimes there is also a curfew. It is difficult for anyone.
The net result of this harsh treatment is the direct limiting of the spread of the virus. Lockdowns are usually pretty short, if you call 2 or 3 months short, after which the economy opens up and life continues virus free. When the virus is again detected, the lockdown cycle and measures go again, even for a single unexplained community case.
The positives include a relatively swift reopening of the economy, but with subsequent infections also a harsh cycle of another lockdown. The virus is stamped out for every cycle. Hospitals are not over-taxed. Contact tracing is not overwhelmed. Fewer people die. Variants cannot flourish in this environment, and are therefore kept at bay
The negative is that people’s freedoms are limited for the length of the lockdown. People’s mental health are taxed. it is also possible that because people are not as exposed to the virus, they have less immunity. As long as all foreigners and visitors are barred from the country, this system can continue. Tourism is domestic only.
Balance Between Public Health and Economy
A country decides to have it both ways, to try to balance public health and the economy. This balancing act is difficult to achieve, and relies not on virus containment, but accepting a “minimal burn” of the virus at all times. Often the politicians get the timing wrong and the virus grows exponentially, overwhelming hospitals and medical systems. Canada, the US, and the EU are examples of this strategy.
Once the virus gets a hold in the community, it can grow exponentially and undetected, after which it explodes. This can overwhelm contact tracing and hospitals, thus increasing deaths.
The positives are that some businesses can attempt to have some income and therefore keep afloat. This strategy seems easier on the public’s mental health, but can drag on for months and eventually overwhelm everyone. More people are exposed to and therefore contract the virus, but those that survive can be immune. A higher percentage of people will eventually have immunity, even before a vaccine.
The negatives include prolonging the virus partial lockdowns by many months, killing businesses, who have no choice but to eventually close by starvation. The virus spreads much more readily, more people get sick and die. Hospitals can be overwhelmed. Contact tracing can also be overwhelmed and cease to be meaningful due to the sheer volume of work. Variants can spread and overtake the original virus. Here in Ontario we are going on 11 months of partial lockdown conditions, which is taxing on people’s mental health.
As we are midway through this pandemic it is difficult to definitively state which model is most successful. The finish line is very far away. We now live in a connected world where people travel often, far and wide. Economies and supply chains are linked throughout the world. Those countries that lock themselves away cannot participate in travel and tourism, which may be a necessary part of their economy.
As yet we do not know which strategy is best. The lockdown strategy reduces infections and deaths, but tramples on people human rights. There is no happy balance.