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Coronavirus:what is the UK playing at?

A few days ago the British government decided to rely on "herd immunity" to control the coronavirus pandemic. A risky and unethical strategy, which forces the English to backtrack.

Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday March 16 drastic measures to slow the coronavirus epidemic. After the closure of schools and all "non-essential" shops, outings are now limited and must be justified, under penalty of a fine. A strategy substantially modeled on that of Spain and Italy, two nations hard hit by the virus.

But we are not alone. In general, the vast majority of the countries concerned have adopted this maneuver which, as we can now see in China, is capable of bearing fruit.

Nevertheless some, like the UK, have decided to take a different approach:that of herd immunity .

What is it?

Very crudely, our body, in response to an infection, relies on its immune system to produce antibodies in an effort to fight off the enemy. Once the disease is wiped away, our body retains a "memory" of that attack. He can thus, in the event of a new intrusion, fight it better and more quickly.

The principle of herd immunity, again crudely, suggests that if enough people develop immunity to a virus, it will stop spreading to people who don't. haven't caught it yet.

To take the example of the new coronavirus, we know that the latter has a reproduction rate between 2 and 3. In other words, an infected person can infect two or three around him, on average. To break the chain of transmission – in other words so that the entire population is protected from an epidemic – the goal is therefore to ensure that the reproduction rate of the virus drops below 1. And to do this, it has been suggested that around 60% of Britons are expected to contract the virus .

Coronavirus:what is the UK playing at?

Yes but…

On paper, the math works. Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the British government Boris Johnson, has not stopped hammering it in the media for several days.

But strategy is risky . On the one hand, because we do not have enough hindsight on this epidemic to assess precisely what its outcome could be. And on the other hand, although some people may not actually be seriously affected by the disease, as part of a herd immunity strategy, these could still transmit the virus to more fragile people who, themselves, are at a higher risk of dying.

As an example, expert analysis recently estimated that achieving herd immunity in the UK would require more than 47 million people . With a mortality rate of 2.3%, this could lead to the death of more than a million people . It has also been calculated that another eight million people would need to enter intensive care units.

These numbers, ethically speaking, are of course abysmal. And anyway, even with all the efforts in the world, the British health system would be unable to absorb so many patients.

Coronavirus:what is the UK playing at?

Awareness? Not really

Some Britons have nevertheless begun to take stock of the situation. In recent days the streets have indeed begun to empty, little by little. The government has also reassessed its strategy in response to this new data suggesting that hundreds of thousands of lives could be at risk.

New measures have therefore been taken. Schools will be closed from Friday. In London, around 40 underground stations have been closed. People are also now strongly advised to avoid 'non-essential' contact, to go to restaurants, pubs, theaters and, if possible, to their place of work, even if from a legal point of view these measures containment are still not mandatory .

It remains to be seen whether these efforts will pay off. Many doubt it, like Emeline, a young French expatriate in London for four years. "The English do not really listen to the measures taken and continue to make their living , she told us, adding that she had just been invited to a wedding in the east of the city, during which at least 500 people should be present next week. Of course, she declined the invitation.

As a reminder, the number of deaths caused by the coronavirus increased by 30% in one day this Wednesday in the United Kingdom (104 deaths to date).


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