BY : Dr Rana bahsh
Which is the best strategy to deal with a virus that is still neither clear to take preventive measures against nor contained by a vaccine that stops it definitely
The corona virus has affected almost the whole world. Yet, the story on how each country dealt with the pandemic differed. The only consensus over most of the countries is its negative effect on the economy, even though there is still a debate over the high variation of the negative effect among the countries.
A look to the experience of the countries strategies to deal with this health crisis still can be categorized to a certain level. For example, among the many medical suggestions about the disease is to laisez- faire strategy with some but major restrictions on social distancing. This as per the experts might lead to herd immunity. They claimed that covid-19 should be treated as a normal flu that the human body immune system could defend itself and build the antibodies against the virus. According to that, it would be wise for the decision makers to allow people to build their immunity naturally while taking exceptions and special care for the more vulnerable groups of the community like the elders and the sick persons.
Another group of countries were totally contraire to this strategy. They adopted a tough national lockdown over all the population and for long time, they almost shut down the economy, and isolated the country from the outside world claiming that every human life should be protected, and that cannot be done without applying a strict social distancing until a solution like the vaccine is found.
If we come to the real experiences, Sweden, for example, has not pursue a full national lockdown from the beginning of the pandemic despite that it declared the disease as a danger to society. Sweden applied minimum restrictions like closing the secondary schools, banning large gatherings, and encouraging people to work from home and socially distance. This measure led to two major spikes in the case numbers per million (for seven-day rolling average) which was 100 cases/million during the early ages of the pandemic but then the same number has declined in the present time to 10 cases/million. An astonishing achievement if compared to other European countries that were very restrictive during the first wave of the pandemic, and now Europe faces 50 cases/million in the current second wave.
Overall, which approach is right and which one is wrong? Is it rational to follow science and open up or follow emotions and close up? It is too early to judge, as we do not know all the circumstances and factors surrounding every country’s particular case yet. In fact, it will take years to put conclusions and learn the full lesson.
So far, and fortunately, there are some lessons scientist can build upon from the first wave experience. For example, some experts cautioned against using a second lockdown as this, they claimed, will allow the cure to become worse than the disease. Actually, a controversy rose between those who were pro applying long-term strategy to living with Covid-19, and those who were pro ensuring that the most vulnerable people are protected, while helping the rest of the population to assess the risks for themselves and for the people around them to mitigate these risks.
In practice, it seems that the European countries appreciated the Sweden approach and realized that a circuit or a long-term lockdown will certainly tire people, make the businesses suffer, and lead to educational and health problems. Accordingly, the restrictions imposed by the European countries during the second wave were much lighter than those during the first one. Governments in almost all Europe declared that they do not intend to impose a second national lockdown. Contrary to that, they prepared a system to apply consequent to certain indicators that reflect the level of gravity of the situation like the number of case and the number of filled up beds in the extensive care sections in the hospitals. This system will not be applied on the nationwide; rather, it will be applied on each city or area that is infected.
Again, no approach is confirmed to be better than the other. Results of places, which followed the extreme approaches like the UK and New York, had the same period of peak of deaths/day as in Sweden despite the huge lock downs measures. They also reached zero deaths/day in the same time. In Australia, a severe lockdown was applied, which poses an important question once the borders are reopened. How will Australia coop once reopened, as the population has no immunity?. That puts the authorities to face a tough decision, especially with no vaccine discovered so far, about if they will be ever ready to open the borders without having to repeat the experience of other countries and if they will accept the increase in the cases to build up an immune community. We only have to wait to know.