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Britain's u-turn in strategy to fight coronavirus

On March 12, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson government stated that it was shifting its focus from aggressive measures to try and delay the effects of COVID-19

twitter-logo BusinessToday.In        Last Updated: March 18, 2020  | 18:12 IST
Britain's u-turn in strategy to fight coronavirus
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

As the world grappled with the threat of coronavirus, UK initially seemed to take it easy. However, as cases increased, Britain changed its stance on fighting coronavirus in a matter of a week.

While countries imposed lockdowns, UK preferred to wait it out. On March 12, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson government stated that it was shifting its focus from aggressive measures to try and delay the effects of COVID-19.  The UK government looked at a couple of things. The government said it would not try to track down contacts of suspected cases but would only test patients admitted to the hospitals. It also believed that the peak was a few weeks away and hence imposing strict measures early on would make people uncooperative and careless. Sir Patrick Vallance, UK's chief scientific adviser also said that when the measures are lifted, the virus would make a comeback.

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In order to tackle the issue, Sir Vallance said that UK would not get rid of the virus completely but would "suppress" it. The way to do it, they believed was to protect the vulnerable including the elderly. However, the others would get sick in the meantime. And as the virus has proven to have milder effects on younger age groups, they would subsequently recover and become immune to the virus. This phenomenon is called "herd immunity".  

The "herd immunity" phenomenon would also allow the severe cases to receive all the medical care they need as well as not crush the healthcare system.

However, herd immunity has never been used as a preventive measure. According to a report in the World Economic Forum, for UK to achieve herd immunity, 70 per cent of the population would require to be infected with coronavirus. "Achieving herd immunity would require well over 47 million people to be infected in the UK. Current estimates are that COVID-19 has a 2.3 per cent case-fatality rate and a 19 per cent rate of severe disease. This means that achieving herd immunity to COVID-19 in the UK could result in the deaths of more a million people with a further eight million severe infections requiring critical care," stated the report.

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As UK's unusual preventive measure made headlines, the Johnson-led government came under severe backlash. A couple of days since then, UK has registered 71 deaths till March 18. Till yesterday, the number of confirmed cases in UK was 1,950, but the UK media believes that the real figure could be around 55,000. Three babies are also reported to have contracted coronavirus.

Amid the backlash and the rapid pace of coronavirus, Johnson government went back on its words and announced aggressive measures to fight the virus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked everyone to avoid non-essential travel. Till Monday the number of deaths in UK was 55. Johnson said that the disease was now "approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve". He asked households to self-quarantine for 14 days if anyone displayed coronavirus symptoms. Johnson said that anyone who can work from home should. "And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues," he said. UK has also promised to ramp up coronavirus testing. There are also reports that people over 70 would be asked to isolate themselves -- either at home or at care facilities. Although schools remain open, the PM hinted that they would be soon shut down.

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Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that the government would soon contact people with severe conditions who should be "shielded from social contact" for three months. He also said that all non-essential operations of the NHS would be cancelled.

So far more than 2 lakh people have been infected with coronavirus, with the death toll at 8,010. China is the most affected, followed by Iran and Italy.

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