The chief medical officers in the British and Irish governments have calculated that the rate of transmission is now below 1. This is undoubtedly good news as it means that Covid-19 is not racing through either nations. However, this news has led to politicians to insist on lifting the lockdown measures that have been responsible for reducing the rate of transmission despite repeated warnings from medical and epidemiological experts alike. Unfortunately I would not be surprised if politicians decide to rush ahead and prematurely declare victory.
It is not hard to foresee that lifting lockdown measures and permitting non-essential business operations to begin will be followed by an increase in the rate of transmission of Covid-19. After all when it is raining and the umbrella protecting you is removed, you will get soaked.
However this fatalistic outcome need not become reality because it assumes that there is nothing in place that would contain the virus. As advanced economies and nations both Britain and Ireland are capable of carrying out what is required to ensure the rate of transmission does not increase above 1 resulting in a repeat of the measures announced at the end of March. What is required is a mass testing programme and a robust contact trace programme.
Even with these measures in place it is unlikely we would see any large fundamental economic activity. People are (surprisingly) fundamental to the supply and demand dynamic upon which the economy hinges.
Before lockdown measures were put in place people were choosing not to travel as a result of Covid-19 and the decreased spending and fall in demand was felt primarily in the travel and tourism sector. Furthermore, a frightening statistic shows that many people in the UK have meagre savings that will barely cover rent, food or electricity for a short period of time. Fear and a lack of disposable income is not how to stimulate an economy.
Without solving the fear that people have we cannot hope to tackle the issue of disposable income. Why not then use geography to our advantage and eliminate Covid-19 from Britain and Ireland?
As Britain and Ireland are islands it is easier to control who enters and exits the country. Therefore, it is easier to monitor, control and reject international movement which would restrict the transmission of Covid-19. In addition, aggressive testing coupled with a rigorous contact tracing programme the links of Covid-19 transmission could be identified, isolated and eliminated.
Perhaps this is fanciful thinking. More accurately I would describe it as ambitious. Perhaps too ambitious for the current crop in charge. Testing in the UK is still below 100,000 daily tests and contact tracing was abandoned in mid March. Furthermore, the island of Ireland faces sectarian challenges that would undermine such an approach. It is undeniable that this approach would eliminate the fear people feel and allow a new normal to begin.
There is hope in fighting this. Our actions have an undeniable impact on how this virus spreads and we all share one common denominator. We are all human and we want to stop Covid-19.