Lockdowns and curfews – are they useless precautions against the spread of coronavirus?
As I type this Tanzania has reported 53 coronavirus cases, 3 of which have died while 7 others have recovered; making the total active cases in the vast country be 43. Tanzania has unusually low number of cases despite Magufuli insisting that the country cannot shut down places of worship “Corona cannot survive in the body of Christ, it will burn. That is exactly why I did not panic while taking the Holy communion,” he said when encouraging Tanzanians not to shy away from attending church services.
In Kenya, a Siaya Priest who had been in Italy and conducted church ceremonies including officiating a funeral in Siaya county was later found to be coronavirus positive. The government of Kenya went about tracing and testing some 626 individuals who came in contact with the Priest, but so far we have not been told if any them contracted the virus from the Priest.
Elsewhere, countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and almost every other African country have not sent their countries into total lockdown yet they seem to have managed their coronavirus cases pretty well. China where the coronavirus started didn’t lock down the entire country, only Hubei Province which has since been reopened despite resurgence of new cases.
Then we have European countries and North America that have been worst hit by the virus. Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK have had total lockdowns for at least one month, while the USA has had several States issue total lockdown orders for several weeks now, but each day the countries not only report the highest increase in number of deaths from coronavirus, but also the highest number of new cases.
The above scenarios tend to suggest that measures such as lockdowns and curfew don’t help curb the spread of coronavirus. According to data analysis done by Prof Isaac Ben-Israel, a prominent Israeli mathematician, analyst and former general, “the spread of COVID-19 peaks after about 40 days and declines to almost zero after 70 days — no matter where it strikes, and no matter what measures governments impose to try to thwart it.” The good professor however does not now why that’s the case. “I have no explanation. There are all kinds of speculations. Maybe it’s related to climate, or the virus has a life-span of its own”, he said. From his data he argues that what governments ought to encourage is social distancing but that it is pointless locking down economies.
The question I have is, is he right? Are lockdowns and curfews useless when it comes to curbing the spread of coronavirus? The answer to these questions could be YES if one condition is true: By the time the first case is detected in a country, several thousand other people are already infected.
Although it was expected that coronavirus was following in the footsteps of several other viruses before it where only those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 could transmit the virus to others, it was later established that even people who have no symptoms at all can infect others. Also, it has been established that up to 80% of those infected by the virus show no symptoms or only get mild flu like symptoms – symptoms that majority ignore to be “just another case of flu”. The implication here therefore is that in scenarios where the first infection in a country has no symptom, that person is going to spread to several people, many of whom will walk around not knowing that they are spreading the virus to others – such that by the time the first symptomatic patient is tested positive of the virus, there are already thousands to hundred of thousands already infected.
Data from Iceland helps illustrate this point. On a population of 360,000, Iceland has conducted 36,000 tests, the highest test rate per population in any country so far. From the test data, it was found that half of the 1,700 who have coronavirus do not have any symptoms, which is twice the rate of estimate provided by WHO. Then by infection rate, Iceland is at position 5, despite having been on a lockdown from end of March.
With countries such as Japan, South Korea not having sent their countries into a total lockdown yet have been able to control the spread of the virus through massive testing and isolation, whereas Western European countries having totally locked down their countries yet continue to have the highest increase of new coronavirus cases, the conclusion tend to suggest that lockdown does not help curb the spread of coronavirus. If at all, it only helps send a country into recession.
The measures that seem to have helped is widespread testing when done alongside aggressive but accurate tracking of those suspected to have contracted the virus, quarantining those that have come in contact with the infected, and isolating the infected.
What’s important to mention here is that we may not rely too much on data from Tanzania and Kenya as these countries haven’t done massive testing as the Asian, European and American countries. It would therefore be wrong to arrive at a conclusion suggested by the first paragraph that churches are insulated against spreading the virus. Reality is that majority of coronavirus cases worldwide can be traced back to some religious especially Christian gatherings.