From the Viewsroom

Should we snap out of the lockdown?

| Updated on April 28, 2020

The debate on the best way to fight the coronavirus continues

Lockdown or herd immunity? That’s the argument raging in India and globally. In the Covid-19 herd-immunity corner is Sweden, which imposed minimal movement restrictions, unlike its Nordic neighbours. Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell insists the nation has “the same results as many other countries” but concedes: “The one thing that hasn’t worked out well… is the death toll.” (Sweden has nearly 10 times the rate of Covid-19-related deaths of its Nordic neighbours). Britain first mulled herd immunity — “taking it on the chin” as Prime Minister Boris Johnson famously said, before the virus landed him in the ICU. But Britain changed course after judging that death toll projections were too high.

In India, we’ve been in lockdown for over a month and numbers are still shooting up in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Rajasthan; though fortunately, the overall death rate remains low at 3.4 per cent compared with Italy and Britain’s nearly 13 per cent, but there are big regional variations. Should we extend the lockdown? Is that even feasible with the risk that millions who’ve lost jobs might starve? On the herd immunity side, there’s Jayaprakash Muliyil, former principal, Christian Medical College, Vellore, who argues India could achieve herd immunity without too many fatalities, because 87 per cent of the population is below 55.

But even if people who fall ill gain immunity, no one knows how long that immunity lasts (some coronaviruses confer less than a year’s immunity). Also, no one knows how long it would take to attain herd immunity. Many experts believe lockdowns are the lone way forward until a vaccine’s found. Otherwise, “millions of elderly and people with other co-morbidities (like obesity, diabetes, heart ailments) will die,” says Giridhara Babu, professor at the Public Health Foundation of India. Virologist Shahid Jameel also reckons there’d be too many deaths due to India’s rickety healthcare system and economic disparities. Then, there’s The Lancet editor Richard Horton, who says: “If you rush lifting lockdown and if you have the second wave (of disease), it’ll be even worse than the first.” One thing’s certain: this argument will rage fiercely till the disease runs its course.

Paran Balakrishnan Editorial Consultant

Published on April 29, 2020

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