The difference between how the UK and Spain have handled the coronavirus so far is not without controversy. While the Spanish Government has issued a complete national lockdown for at least two weeks, the British Government is heavily criticised for doing too little and being too passive.
While Spain has closed all schools and ordered everyone to stay inside, the UK still keeps its schools open and has not closed its borders. Great Britain has also stopped hunting down individual cases, contradicting WHO’s recommendations. Instead, the country is now putting all its energy into protecting health care and the elderly. The only other European country with a similar passive stance is Sweden, who has also been heavily criticised for doing too little at this point.
The controversial British (as well as the Swedish) strategy is to slowly build up herd immunity. This means that young and healthy people, who are not at high risk of becoming seriously ill, are allowed to be infected by the virus so that they become immune. These two countries are the only ones taking this route in handling the coronavirus outbreak.
“In this way, those who are at risk of dying from the disease, i.e. the elderly, could be protected,” the British government’s scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, claims, stressing the importance of “doing the right things at the right time”.
But is this strategy a wise one? Most other countries disagree. Many critics claim that by not shutting down schools and borders, not only will the young and healthy people get infected, but the elderly will catch the potentially deadly disease as well in the process. And with possibly more than half of the population being infected, even if spread out during several months, the health care system would most likely collapse.
Herd immunity is reached when enough people have become either vaccinated or immune by recovering after contracting the disease. At least 60 per cent of the population needs to be immune to the coronavirus in order to reach herd immunity.
60 per cent is a large number, that would mean that out of the 67 million people living in the UK, 40 million people would need to be infected and recover in order to reach herd immunity in the country. Even if the correct death rate would be a conservative 1% (earlier figures have shown a death rate of over 3%), that would still mean 400,000 deaths in the UK alone. In the light of these numbers, there’s no wonder this strategy is heavily criticised by so many.
If the UK continues down this road, let’s just hope Britain’s health care system can bring these numbers down considerably.