If we self-isolate when we have Covid symptoms, that reduces transmission by about a quarter or a third. The current contact-tracing regime brings a reduction of only 2% to 5%, an official 19 February report estimates.
Reducing social contact for us all — especially face-to-face indoors contact — also reduces transmission, since many transmissions happen before the transmitter gets symptoms.
But present only a minority of people with Covid symptoms — maybe 18%, maybe 29% — self-isolate properly. Winning full isolation pay for all is central to improve self-isolation rates and help keep the curves of infections and hospitalisations falling even with step-by-step lockdown-easing.
Vaccination is important, but not enough on its own, or for a while to come. Despite the highest vaccination rate in the world, Israel’s infection and death rates are still falling quite slowly.
Necessary social measures include requisitioning of private hospitals and the medical and PPE supply chain, bringing social care into the public sector, public quarantine accommodation for people otherwise trying to “self-isolate” in crowded housing, public-health test-and-trace, and extended furloughs.
School workers’ and management unions have agreed that schools should be the priority for lockdown-easing, but have called for the return from 8 March to be step-by-step rather than all-at-once. The basic demand should be for workers’ control, as in the agreement won by the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) for safety committees comprising the “school principal; the building engineer… selected by the principal; up to four CTU members, as selected by CTU; and a reasonable number of employees represented by other unions”.
Lockdowns do work, under certain conditions and up to a point. Scientific analysis points to step-by-step caution in easing. But police measures are not cure-alls, even when advocated from the left, as in an article by Susan Michie in the Guardian (22 February). “Australia, New Zealand, China, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and Finland... locked down early and hard, driving down transmission until it reached a level that could be managed by an effective system of test, trace and supported isolation”.
They didn’t! Finland locked down a little earlier than the UK, but always more loosely. It had a spike from mid-November, and has another one now. Its less bad death rate than Britain’s plausibly owes much to better social conditions and social measures. Nothing to heavier police measures.
The other countries have had no whole-country lockdowns, or only later and (mostly) looser lockdowns. All have had spikes since their first responses.
The real common factor (Finland apart, but shared also by Taiwan, Mauritius, Madagascar, and even Japan, whose Covid death rate is less than half Finland’s) is of being remote islands, or countries with borders that could be rigidly closed. Better quarantine rules for entrants to the UK are necessary, but they’re never going to close borders as rigidly as New Zealand (even if we want them to, which we don’t).
Winning social solidarity is the key to easing the costs of lockdown, speeding the benefits of vaccination, letting us “get our lives back”, and at the same time keeping the infection curves falling.