The Spectator

Covid-19 update: Lives vs lives – the dilemma of ending the lockdown

Covid-19 update: Lives vs lives – the dilemma of ending the lockdown
Turkey sends medical aid to the UK. (Photo: Getty)
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News and analysis 

  • The lockdown could claim 150,000 lives through various side effects (including suspended NHS services), according to internal government modelling. Fraser Nelson reports below.

  • Covid-19 antibody testing in a German town suggests a 15 per cent infection rate and a 0.37 per cent death rate.
  • Boris Johnson last night moved out of intensive care and is now in a regular ward at St Thomas’ Hospital.
  • The Home Secretary has warned the police against being heavy-handed over the Easter weekend. Meanwhile, military police boats will patrol the south coast to stop people from visiting beaches.
  • Ninety-one per cent of Brits support an extension to the lockdown, according to new research by YouGov.
  • Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has been criticised after it emerged that he travelled 150 miles to his home in Herefordshire during the lockdown.

What’s the cost of the lockdown? Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, has always argued that Covid-19 will take lives in two ways: directly and indirectly. Directly: 7,978 so far, with up to 20,000 expected in total. But indirectly? In my Daily Telegraph column today, I report that initial models drawn up inside government suggest a figure of 150,000 ‘avoidable’ deaths caused by the lockdown, far greater than the revised toll expected from Covid-19. The cause of deaths will be a mixture: downgrading NHS services (less cancer care, mental health treatment cut) and people avoiding the NHS (visits to A&E were down by a third last month). Whitty is also concerned about parents not vaccinating kids, which could threaten herd immunity for other diseases. The 150,000 figure is produced by a model, and like all models, its findings are the creation of its inputs. But there has never been any modelling about the side effects of lockdown: the effects on domestic abuse, deprivation of education – and, perhaps biggest of all, the effects on our ability to fund healthcare if the economy is permanently poorer. ‘This is a balancing act,’ one cabinet member told me, ‘but we need a clearer view of what’s on the other side of the ledger.’

In words

Professor Neil Ferguson, the key government scientific adviser who led the Imperial College London study that convinced No. 10 to adopt a full lockdown, has told BBC Radio 4:

We made quite conservative assumptions about the level of contact reduction these measures would result in… There is some preliminary evidence in terms of contact surveys, in terms of data from companies like Google about how people move, that we have seen even larger reductions in normal behaviour contact than we would have dared hope.

Discussing the lifting of the lockdown, Prof Ferguson said:

Without doubt measures will be targeted, probably by age, by geography, and we will need to introduce – in my view – much larger levels of testing at a community level to really be able to isolate cases and more effectively identify where transmission has happened.

Covid-19 antibody test in German town shows 15 per cent infection rate

Knowing how many people have been infected with Covid-19 is significant on two fronts: it gives us a better indication of the fatality rate of the virus, and allows us to assess possible exit strategies from worldwide lockdowns, as we understand the reach and impact of the pandemic. News from the University of Bonn in Germany provides one more piece of the puzzle. As Ross Clark explains on Coffee House, the university has carried out ‘a randomised sample of 1,000 residents of the town of Gangelt in the north-west of the country, one of the epicentres of the outbreak in Germany. They found that two per cent of the population currently had the virus and that 14 per cent were carrying antibodies suggesting that they had already been infected – whether or not they experienced any symptoms.’ While this is just a small sample in its own right, it links with previous studies, and suggests a fatality rate of 0.37 per cent, significantly below the 0.9 per cent which Imperial College London has estimated. The more examples we can piece together, the clearer the impact of Covid-19 becomes.

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