Stories of mismanagement of the Coronavirus Pandemic keep coming up and the latest in this series is the catastrophic ‘herd immunity’ strategy to combat the novel Wuhan virus. Europe was recently declared the new epicentre of the COVID-19 Pandemic and in the days following this declaration, the UK took up a disastrous strategy of allowing the virus to spread upto 60 per cent of its population, instead of immediately cracking down upon it.
Announcing the ‘herd immunity’ plan, Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government, had said that the authorities would contain the spread of the virus but would not suppress it completely. He had added, “a 60 per cent infection rate would help build up a degree of ‘herd immunity’.”
What this utterly outrageous strategy meant was that the United Kingdom would not even try to combat the novel infection which, at the time of writing this story, has already led to more than 2,19,000 confirmed cases and more than 8,900 deaths across the world.
‘Herd immunity’ works when a significant population develops resistance towards a disease either naturally by getting infected and developing immunity against the disease, or through a vaccination drive. With fewer people transmitting the virus given the lower number of people that can get infected with the virus, the spread of the infection itself gets reduced. What the United Kingdom was therefore looking for was to allow 60 per cent of its population to get infected, recovering, developing immunity to the Wuhan virus and setting in ‘herd immunity’.
The move came under severe criticism as the country was putting several lives under risk just for the sake of kicking in ‘herd immunity’. Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, tweeted, “What troubles me about the UK govt’s response to COVID-19 is its strategic objective. The goal seems to have been herd immunity, delaying urgent action to allow an epidemic to infect large numbers of people. Instead, the goal should have been to save lives. A grave error.”
It is not just that the ‘herd immunity’ approach is highly unethical and dangerous given the warnings that 2.5 lakh lives would be at risk if such a strategy was to be adopted, but also technically flawed. Coronavirus is still a new virus, and as of now we still don’t know if a person develops immunity to the virus on recovering from the novel infection. And there have been cases in China of patients getting second positive tests for the Wuhan virus.
In this sense, the United Kingdom’s ‘herd immunity’ approach could be even more disastrous than what it is thought to be. Imagine a sizeable section of the population getting infected and not becoming resistant even on recovering from the disease. In this sense, it could be highly counter-productive.
A course correction has been initiated by the Johnson government in the UK, but it might be too late. Now, British health officials fear that the epidemic will last for at least another year and 80 per cent population of the country will get infected. The United Kingdom could easily be the worst affected among all countries insofar the Coronavirus Pandemic is concerned.
The United Kingdom has been very lax on taking measures. While Continental Europe was taking up social distancing- enforcing quarantine rules, the UK was looking for “herd immunity”, the UK allowed its schools, theatres, clubs and restaurants to remain open for far too long allowing people to come into contact with each other. If a single ‘Patient 31‘ who did not practice social distancing in the nick of time, wrecked havoc in South Korea, imagine the level of damage that will be caused by a sizeable population in the UK who were allowed to get infected only because the authorities wanted “herd immunity”.
From cutting down travel and immigration to preparations in term of healthcare facilities, the United Kingdom has no real plan on how to combat the disease for too long. The United Kingdom’s case could easily be the worst among all countries affected by the China-made virus. Countries in Europe like Spain and Italy had taken strict measures and yet suffered severely in wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, the United Kingdom, on the other hand, has been caught unprepared. In fact, it allowed the virus to spread exponentially and now the country might have to suffer the scourge of the Pandemic with a majority of its population getting severely infected.