On Monday morning Wales emerges from its 17 day ‘circuit-breaker’. Did it work? Not according to the rate of new infections.
During the first 12 days – when Wales was in lockdown but England wasn’t – the epidemic seems to have grown far more quickly in Wales than it did in England. When Wales went into lockdown on 23 October, the seven-day average for new infections leading up to that date was 893. By 5 November, the seven-day average had grown to 1,299, a 45 per cent increase. In England, by contrast, the seven day average leading up to 23 October was 17,085, growing to 19,497 by 5 November – a 14 per cent increase.
Over the two weeks leading up to the Welsh lockdown, the number of daily cases (again using a seven-day average) increased by 49 per cent. The ‘circuit-breaker’, in other words, seems to have made zero difference to the progression of the epidemic in Wales – while simultaneously the epidemic in England seems to have started to level off without a national lockdown. You might expect a lag of a few days as cases were revealed in people who had been infected right before the lockdown began, but given that Covid-19 seems to have an incubation period of up to two weeks, Wales ought to have been seeing a dramatic decrease in new cases by the end of the circuit breaker – if, that is, the lockdown was going to work at all. As well, the increase in cases in Wales cannot be explained by a sudden increase in testing, as the number of tests performed over the past month has been fairly flat.
Why, then, has a two week ‘circuit breaker’ in Wales failed to break the circuit? There is no obvious explanation, and epidemiologists will no doubt argue over it in days to come. But in contrast to the spring, there were already widespread restrictions on day-to-day life in place before the lockdown was called. People were already social distancing, they were being kept apart, to some extent, in pubs and restaurants. Many were already working from home, as they had been since the spring. Going into lockdown, therefore, involved a less dramatic change than it had first time around. Moreover, lockdown is not, and cannot be, absolute – people still have to come into contact in supermarkets, in hospitals, clinics and the like.
Whatever the reasons, the Welsh experience doesn’t support the case for a four week lockdown in England – where new cases of Covid-19 were beginning to level off in any case.