疫情下的英国,是否封锁,进退两难。Going full circuit

Britain would be wrong to return to national lockdown, even a short, sharp one.


In one sense it marks the return of politics as usual ;in another it is a sign of looming crisis. On October 13th Britain’s opposition Labour Party split sharply from the government, calling for a “circuit-breaker”, a two- or three-week national lockdown to cut the spread of covid-19. As Europe and America struggle with a surge in cases, other governments may also come under pressure to do the same. It would be a mistake. The benefits of a national lockdown no longer justify the costs. At this stage of the pandemic governments should focus on local measures.


The impulse to do something is understandable. New reported daily cases in Britain are at a record seven-day average of over 15,000 and are doubling every two weeks. Local leaders are angered by confusing orders from Whitehall (see Britain section). No wonder Labour has seized on Boris Johnson’s faltering performance.

急于采取措施的冲动是可以理解的。英国日新增报告病例已经达到了平均每七日超过1.5万例的记录,并且正在以每两周翻一番的趋势增长。地方官员被白厅的混乱的命令激怒了。也难怪工党抓住 Boris Johnson 的糟糕表现不放。

Backers of a short, sharp lockdown say it would save lives—perhaps 7,000 or so according to modelling for scientists advising the government. By cutting the virus’s spread, the National Health Service would be spared the sort of overload that caused so many deaths in Italy earlier in the year. Once the epidemic had been reset at a lower level, the tracing system might be able to deal more promptly with the daily burden of new cases, helping to lower the rate of infections.


A national lockdown makes sense only if a country is completely overwhelmed and underprepared—as at the start of the pandemic. Neither is true of Britain today. Although the recorded number of cases in Britain is over three times its peak in April, the comparison is misleading. For all the system’s faults, the daily volume of tests is over 20 times what it was then. Mild cases that would have gone unreported six months ago are now picked up (see chart). This helps explain why deaths, at around 450 last week, are still just 8% of what they were in April. The fatality rate will increase, because it lags behind cases by three to four weeks. But better treatments are also saving lives. In choosing to act, deaths are more important than cases.

只有在一个国家完全措手不及或者不堪重负时,全国封锁才有意义——正如新冠开始时那样。而不是英国现在的情形。尽管英国统计的病例数量是4月峰值时的3倍多,但这样的比较是具有误导性的。把系统的所有故障算在内,现在的日检测量是那时的20多倍。六个月前不会被报道的轻微病例现在也被统计在内。这就可以解释,为什么上周有450人死亡,仅仅占4月份的 8% 。死亡率将会上升,因为这比检测时间会晚上2~3周。但是好的治疗方式也在挽救生命。在选择采取行动时,死亡数比病例数更重要。

It is not clear that a national circuit-breaker would have lasting benefits. The disease would start to accelerate again as soon as it was lifted. As the year draws on, people will spend more time indoors, where the virus spreads easily. The burden of proof is on the proponents of a circuit-breaker to show that the well-documented shortcomings of Britain’s tracing system could be fixed by a three-week reorganisation or by a temporarily lower caseload. Compliance is also in doubt. Although polls support tough action, Britons seem to make an exception for themselves. A recent paper finds that just 18% of those who should have isolated themselves in the summer stuck strictly to the rules. If people flout them, the circuit-breaker may be kept for longer than three weeks, lowering compliance still further.

目前尚不清楚,全国性的封锁是否会带来持续性的好处。这种疾病只要一解除封锁,就会立即加速传播。随着新年的临近,人们会花更多的时间呆在室内,这让病毒传播更加便利。全国封锁的支持者有责任证明英国的追踪系统缺陷可以通过三周的改组或者临时降低工作量来解决。其合法性也存在争议。尽管民调支持强硬措施,但英国人看起来希望为自己破例。在最近的一篇论文中发现,那些本该在夏天自我隔离的人中,仅仅有 18% 严格遵守了规则。如果人们无视规则,”断路器“政策在三周之后,将会进一步失去约束性。

It would also be economically ruinous. In April, at the height of the first lockdown, Britain’s output was one-quarter lower than it had been in February. The imf argues that lockdowns may be worth it if they create an economy that can fully reopen for business. But nobody is suggesting that a short circuit-breaker could suppress the virus to that extent. And the trade-off would be even less worthwhile if you factor in the toll on mental health, the delay in treating other illnesses and the effects on long-term employment and education.


To get covid-19 under control Britain should focus on sustainable local measures: identifying vulnerable groups, finding ways to protect them, identifying trade-offs, instigating local testing and recruiting leaders to generate local support. A circuit-breaker sounds like a scientific solution to a runaway problem. The reality would be a costly mess.




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