European nations take different approaches in fighting Covid-19

March 18, 2020 12:19
The lockdown in Italy has not been effective so far as new infections continue to rise sharply. Photo: Reuters

To fight the Covid-10 outbreak in Europe, Italy and Spain have introduced the most drastic lockdown measures, while the United Kingdom and Germany are trying to build “herd immunity” by allowing majority of their people to get infected.

In Italy and Spain, most residents are not allowed to leave home unless they have urgent needs. But as of March 16, the two countries have 28,000 and over 9,000 confirmed cases respectively, and new cases have continued to increase sharply, indicating the measures have not been effective so far.

The lockdowns might have come too late. People from southern Europe are used to hugging and kissing each other, which might make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.

Large numbers of people have flooded into local hospitals asking to be tested. That has put great pressure on the healthcare system.

The lesson learned from the outbreak in central China’s Wuhan demonstrated the run on medical resources is sometimes more dangerous than the virus itself, as those with severe infections might not be able to receive timely treatment.

By contrast, the UK and Germany are fighting the virus with more calm. They have not introduced any lockdowns, and not all suspected patients will be tested.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced its herd immunity game plan by separating those at a lower risk of dying from the higher-risk groups.

People over 70 will soon be asked to stay at home for up to four months, as this age group has the highest death rate among those infected. It's also been shown that few young and middle-aged patients have severe infections.

Meanwhile, UK government urges those with mild infections to stay at home, and they can call an ambulance if they still have fever after seven days.

It is estimated that the infection rate could hit 60 percent of the population, and that would help build up a degree of herd immunity.

This approach has stirred much criticism, but the way I see it, it actually makes sense. The Covid-19 is highly contagious, which means temporary lockdowns may not help too much. A prolonged lockdown, on the other hand, would be unfeasible.

Germany has adopted a similar approach by keeping business as usual. Young patients are asked to stay at home, allowing medical resources to be focused on patients in serious condition. So far, the public appears to have taken the government’s policy response to the epidemic calmly.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 17

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist