The term lockdown is bandied around – full/partial; national/local etc. and is often used as if it represents an all or nothing event of some kind. And perhaps ‘lockdown’ is a bad term since it misrepresents what should be intended, that is, suppressing transmission by separating people: separation, diffusion or separating might be better.
Here I want to use the term ‘ lockdown strategies’ as referring to the full range of policies and behaviors that limit our contact with other people in order to reduce transmission. So lockdown restricts contact, making it harder for people to mix, (social distancing), which might include shutting up shops and businesses, as well as including the less extreme end: no touching, using sanitizer, wearing masks.
It is unhelpful to use the term lockdown without. being more specific.
Current attempts to slow down the spread are inspired by
a) the historic excess deaths already caused by the virus, shortening people’s lives – mostly the older population; and
b) the recent exponential rise in the proportion tested that are positive, and hospital admissions.
Nobody knows how bad the death rate and impact on hospital care will be, but the recent rises suggest we are not at a peak yet. And it is acknowledged that lockdowns certainly cause harms to many directly (to mental health, through isolation, economically, and in terms of opportunity costs for healthcare).
But, if left to run unchecked there is a risk that the NHS will be overwhelmed, many will die earlier than if the virus was contained, also affecting healthcare for other problems.
The virus will become increasingly prevalent to the extent many people may be infectious, may be too ill to work, or too scared to work or travel. People won’t risk traveling by plane. Many businesses will likely shut down, unemployment and poverty will soar. In other words there will not just be large numbers of earlier or excess deaths but a longer term economic hit.
To repeat: without a significant slowing of the rate of transmission businesses will not be safe to operate and there will be even more business failures and redundancies.
There will be an even greater and longer term economic recession.
The current trend against lockdowns that include shutting shops and businesses and offices has been inspired by right wing ideology that is frightened that the myths of the current liberal democratic capitalist system are being exposed: it makes the rich richer and makes social inequality worse. This right wing inspired trend tries to frighten by justifying future austerity measures. It suggests debt must be repaid somehow but on the contrary, when Modern Monetary Theory clearly shows that government can produce money to meet welfare and social needs, to pay for socially useful, essential, productive work and where tax can be adjusted to counter inflation if necessary.
Modern monetary theory: a short guide for a world that now realises that it’s an explanation of what’s now happening
The right wing trend to criticize lockdown is a short term and mistaken perspective to prop up the potential to continue making profits, and justifies austerity that is socially unjust and affects the poorest most.
Eradication may prove impossible but amelioration of the impact to protect the vulnerable and to improve and maintain living standards of those affected is within the power of the State. And testing may have a role though public trust in any testing system must be very low.