The World Around Us
February 16, 2021
A Lockdown is not a Panacea to end CoVID-19

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), extensive physical distancing measures and movement restrictions, often referred to as ‘lockdowns’, can slow COVID-19 transmission by limiting contact between people. The WHO further recognizes that at certain points, some countries have had no choice but to issue stay-at-home directives and other measures, to buy time.

The WHO also urges governments to capitalize on the extra time provided by ‘lockdown’ measures since among other things, they can help to build countries’ capacities to detect, isolate, test and care for all cases; trace and quarantine all contacts; and engage, empower and enable populations to drive the societal response.

In the months after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance) notes that several countries, such as China, Germany and Spain, recorded a fall in infections after lockdown measures were implemented. Researchers have also estimated that the five-week lockdown in Italy in the Spring of 2020, prevented 200,000 hospital admissions from COVID-19 and reduced transmission of the virus by 45 percent. Countries such as China, New Zealand and Vietnam also had successful lockdowns and were generally able to reopen after imposing early, short and sharp measures.

On the other side of the lockdown debate is a recognition that such measures can also impose certain economic, health and social costs which might be too burdensome for some countries to bear. The WHO suggests that the socio-economic fallout of lockdowns disproportionately affects disadvantaged groups, including people in poverty, who most often live in overcrowded and under resourced settings, and depend on daily labour for subsistence.

According to GAVI, lockdowns in several countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have had devastating economic effects on vulnerable and marginalized populations, and many informal workers on hourly and daily wages saw their incomes end the instant lockdown started. Conversely, wealthy countries have been able to roll out massive economic support measures for individuals and firms.

In Barbados where lockdown measures were imposed in early February in response to community spread of COVID-19, it is rather instructive that both the private sector and labour representatives are already urging the government not to extend the restrictions beyond the two-week time frame. This is due to the obvious adverse impact on the business community and workers.

Now is indeed a very challenging environment for public policy making and many governments face the difficult decision of having to determine when and how a country should introduce and then ease restrictions to combat the virus in a manner which is sensitive to the prevailing socio-cultural and economic contexts.

A Lancet peer-reviewed paper published in September 2020, titled “Lessons learnt from easing COVID-19 restrictions: an analysis of countries and regions in Asia Pacific and Europe”, identified several key elements that are essential for bringing the virus under control, besides the imposition of lockdowns. Most important is a robust system for testing, tracing and isolating, where test results are returned within 24 hours, at least 80 percent of people’s contacts are reached and there is high adherence to a rule of 14 days’ isolation for those exposed to the virus.

Lockdown or no lockdown, citizens also have an important role to play in terms of taking greater personal responsibility and following the advice of public health experts, such as wearing face coverings; avoiding indoor, crowded and poorly ventilated spaces; and practicing physical distancing wherever possible. What perchance separates the effectiveness of lockdown measures in certain parts of Asia, Australia and New Zealand compared to parts of Europe and North America is that citizens may have had a more disciplined approach to heeding the advice of health experts. This kind of discipline is not readily found in many places, especially where capacities to enforce are limited.

Finally, a lockdown, while it can be effective, is not a panacea to end the fight against COVID-19. What is perhaps required even more than a lockdown is an orderly response by the citizenry and strong public health guidance.