Great Britain is swimming against the current

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So far, London is the only Western European government not to take coercive measures such as closing schools against the corona virus. But reluctance is increasingly being criticized.

Boris Johnson will hold a press conference on the corona crisis on March 12.

Boris Johnson will hold a press conference on the corona crisis on March 12.

WPA Pool / Getty Images Europe

“Keep calm and carry on”: The motto derived from the equanimity of the British during the German bombing raids in the Second World War is currently also valid in the current pandemic triggered by the corona virus. London is the only government in Western Europe to forego drastic measures such as the closure of schools, a ban on major events or travel restrictions. The unobtrusive approach is controversial. Opposition, scientists and the World Health Organization (WHO) criticized the British government at the weekend.


Criticism of the British special way

Resentment also arises in our own ranks. The conservative former health minister Jeremy Hunt raises doubts as to whether it is advisable to lag four weeks behind those in Italy and elsewhere. The English and Scottish football associations anticipated a ban and voluntarily canceled all games until at least the beginning of April. The same goes for rugby matches. The horse races in Cheltenham, a highlight in the racing calendar, took place on Friday and Saturday as planned in front of up to 70,000 spectators.

Boris Johnson was on Thursday, flanked by chief medical officer for England, Chris Witty, and government scientific advisor, Patrick Vallance, in front of the media kicked. The Prime Minister spoke in a serious tone that he never does otherwise. He had to be open with the population, he said; many families would lose relatives in the worst health crisis of a generation whose time had not come. Despite the bleak warning, Johnson has not announced any of the draconian steps that other countries are taking to deal with the crisis.


British people are also no longer allowed to travel to the USA

Ireland announced the immediate closure of schools and universities, also on Thursday; Events with over 100 people inside bars and 500 people outdoors are prohibited. In Scotland too, teachers and students are staying at home for the time being, as the Edinburgh regional government announced. At the weekend, the UK authorities said the number of diseases in the UK was 1140; 21 patients had died. Ireland is officially 130 cases and 2 fatalities far less affected.

The American president meanwhile announced that Entry ban for passengers from Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland will also apply from Tuesday. The two countries have so far been exempt from the ban. Americans returning from the British Isles can still enter designated airports.


Voluntary work is better than coercion

At the press conference, Johnson and his advisers made it clear that the reluctance to take measures does not stem from the nonchalance that is often encountered in the British administration, but is justified. The British expect the crisis to peak in three months. According to the applied epidemiological models, 50 percent of the critical illnesses can be expected around the culmination point of the epidemic within a period of six weeks.

According to Vallance and other experts, it cannot be expected that the public will patiently accept coercive measures that will change their everyday lives until midsummer. Instead, London wants to escalate health policies. The government is consulting behavioral researchers, according to which the population should be pushed as gently as possible to voluntarily change relevant habits.

Johnson’s frightening warning that many deaths are expected is to be seen in the same context and was certainly voiced by the prime minister. For the time being, the authorities are only giving advice, such as that people with symptoms should not leave their homes. Restraint also applies to the tests – only patients who are hospitalized with clear symptoms are tested for the Sars-CoV-2 virus.


Breed immunity to Covid-19

According to the scientists, the reluctance is to cause an elongated instead of a steep curve of the contagions and to prevent the already stressed state health service from being overwhelmed. But the strategy is guided by further consideration. There will be a vaccine in a year at the earliest, says the epidemiologist Graham Medley, one of the experts hired by Johnson. Instead, specialists seek to control the epidemic to the point where enough people become infected, sick, and recovered so that the general public can develop a strain that is immune to Covid-19. For this to be effective, i.e. to suppress infections, around two thirds of the population would have to go through the disease.

One of the central concerns of health politicians is therefore to separate the robust, rather younger population, which can more easily overcome infection, from the vulnerable older part of the general public. At most, the goal can be approximately achieved. According to the British Sunday press, the authorities are also discussing stricter measures – in such a way that over 70-year-olds should enter a kind of quarantine on their own. As everywhere, the answer to the crisis is in flux. How long the British government was against health care current can and wants to swim is open.

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