Health Secretary for Britain, Matt Hancock in a press conference on 01 May 2020 announced that Britain has crossed the 1,00,000 tests per day target. He went on say that this is an unprecedented achievement by UK medical services. Hancock and his team believe that testing for COVID-19 is very important to get Britain back on its feet. Claiming it to be a national achievement, he said testing is crucial to controlling SARS-CoV2. It helps people know if they are infected or not, removing any worry. It will help the country unlock the lockdown. What will massive testing targets achieve. Will it bring United Kingdom out of the coronavirus situation.
As on 03 May 2020, Britain has 182,000 confirmed cases and over 28000 deaths. That is almost highest number of cases next to USA. Earliest of the cases were reported in the beginning of January 2020. Heathrow airport has three direct flights to Wuhan every week. The second half of January when corona positive cases were being reported in China, about 2000 people flew in from China directly into England. By mid March as cases started doubling, the govt advised its citizen to restrict non essential travel. But the govt had still not declared total lockdown as people continued to move freely all across the country and Europe. March month was mostly confusion for Britain because the Prime Minister did not want economic problems associated with the lockdown to affect the country.
Herd Immunity Concept
A section of medical experts within the British Govt came up with the “Herd Immunity Concept”. As per this concept the virus is allowed to infect 60% of the population so that the majority develop immunity. This strategy of herd immunity was seriously considered by the govt till as late as 04 April 2020 despite protests by hundreds of health experts. Herd Immunity is a workable idea but it was conceived at a very early stage. To develop immunity, the virus has to be allowed to propagate through the population unrestricted. This will affect large number of people who do not have a well developed immune system. No country is equipped with the medical infrastructure to deal with such a load of patients. Firstly the idea itself was a mistake and the dilly dallying of the govt further compounded it.
#Lockdown is announced but it is not total
By 01 April the number of cases rose to 29,474. Total lockdown came into effect but like in India, it was not total. It was announced for an initial period of 3 weeks to be reviewed. Next day Health Secretary announced his ambitious plan to achieve testing of 1,00,000 people per day. By mid April the govt declared that effects of the lockdown were visible. But the number of cases more than tripled and crossed 100,000 mark. One month has passed and the number of cases has increased more than five times. Clear indication that the intensive testing plan is not working to curb the number of cases. There is no alternative to total lockdown.
- Testing is always done in batches. Once a batch is cleared, that batch is not going to be tested any time soon. Members of that batch if they move freely can get infected again. It gives them a kind of clearance certificate which might lead to complacency in social distancing norms.
- SARS CoV2 is a highly contagious virus. It spreads rapidly from human to human via touch. It can remain alive on surfaces for upto a few days. The more social distancing followed, the more cases can be kept under control.
- Not all infected people will show symptoms. People can remain completely asymptomatic for the few weeks that virus stays in their body. However they can still infect others.
- Crowded places or places visited by large number of people like malls and cinema halls or places of tourist footfall are likely places of mass transmission. Public transport is another such place where community transmission can happen.
- People infected with the virus need ventilator and ICU support. This can easily overwhelm the medical infrastructure of any country.
- Sub standard test kits are another headache for the govt, especially when imported from a foreign country.
World now has to live to stay with coronavirus disease. The virus is not going to disappear overnight. Either we develop anti-bodies and immunity or follow strict social distancing norms. India choose the best approach to first enforce a total lockdown while the country readied its medical infrastructure. Lockdown cannot be permanent but now the economy can be opened in phases and govt is prepared. It is time the colonial masters learn a few things from us instead of sheltering economic defaulters like Vijay Mallya and championing the cause of Indian prison conditions. Hearing the appeal of known economic defaulter of Kingfisher Airlines, a London court asked for a video of Arthur Road jail to check how much light is provided to inmates. The court further went on to say that it cannot take the assurances of Govt of India and want to see the actual arrangements. Misplaced priorities of the rulers of Britain continues.