Relaxing lockdown now could risk even more deaths

PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 May 2020

A police officer speaks to people relaxing by the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

A police officer speaks to people relaxing by the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

PA Wire/PA Images

The national mood is slipping from trying to contain coronavirus to trying to get normal life back under way.

Morning news bulletins mix discussion of how to reopen parts of the economy and stories of NHS staff still not receiving appropriate PPE with good news about hospitals emptying and daily deaths decreasing.

All the indications seem to point toward the virus slowly being subdued.

Or in the prime minister’s formulation, we’re sat on its chest waiting for the police to arrive.

This is ignoring the possibility of a second peak of the virus – the mugger’s accomplice sneaking up behind us.

In 1918, the Spanish Flu peaked twice in the same year. And then again in the following two years.

The first wave that spread around the globe in spring 1918 – carried by troops on their way to, or from, the First World War – was relatively benign. The second wave – which spread from 
late summer into the autumn the war ended – was the one that ravaged the world and killed millions.

For the vast majority who contract Covid-19 its effects will be closer to the first wave than the second. While it is unlikely I’ll ever know what it was for sure, I had something I suspect to have been coronavirus and this was my experience of the virus.

I never developed the classic dry cough, or even a temperature. I spent a week in bed, feeling exhausted and a bit like I’d been in a small car crash.

For me, it was just like having the flu. For some, it will not even be that bad. But for many thousands of others the 
virus will kill them.

While the disease may not be that bad for a lot of people, it is deceitful. It will leapfrog one person without leaving a mark onto a more at-risk host who could become seriously ill.

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Unlike the flu of 1918, which predominantly killed the young and apparently healthy, coronavirus tends to kill older people.

According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly 90pc of the people who have died in the UK have been over 65 and 41pc have been over 85.

Perhaps people younger than 65 think their age will protect them from the disease.

Tragic stories – like that of Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, the 13-year-old boy who died alone in a London hospital – briefly bring home the horrendous impact the disease can have, but don’t seem to stop many people from becoming numb to the risks the diseases can pose even to the youngest and healthiest.

Whatever it is, it has led people to argue that pubs or fast food restaurants should reopen because they are big enough for the staff and patrons not to be on top of each other in a desperate bid to get life back to normal and make a quick buck.

The UK’s initial response has been likened to shutting the door on a horse mid-bolt – are we now trying to open the door again the second it has been corralled back into its stall?

In New Zealand, where the lockdown was immediate and harsh, they are now beginning to reap the rewards of seeing it through.

It may be a gradual process – starting with a few more freedoms than people had last week – but as their impressive prime minister Jacinda Ardern said they are not out of the woods yet.

The same is true in the UK. While we may be subduing 
the virus, it is a job half 
done. The government’s 
mantra of “stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” may be trite, but it remains the right thing to do for now.

Delaying the reopening of the economy may be difficult and financially expensive in the short term but opening the flood gate before we are ready would likely cost many more lives.

I was lucky, and you may be too, but do not take the risk.

Remember Ismail and the more than 25,000 others when you wish you were having a pint in a pub.

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