Silver lining, though: At least the UK isn’t Spain or France, which have had twice as many cases daily lately as the Brits have had. In fact, Spain and France were fourth and fifth, respectively, among all nations yesterday in new daily cases. The only countries with more were India, Brazil, and the U.S., all of which have much larger populations.
Spain at least has seen a decline in cases over the past few days. That French curve is — hoo boy. You look at those images and wonder if America will be spared a similarly steep rise in infections because of some degree of immunity gained from our summer COVID wave or if, as in February, what’s happening in Europe is just a sneak preview of what’ll be happening here in a month. Daily U.S. cases right now are at their lowest level since mid-June, right before the summer wave began.
Johnson’s approach in the speech below reminds me of Gov. Greg Abbott’s approach in Texas in that both defended new restrictions they imposed explicitly as alternatives to lockdowns. Abbott slapped a mask mandate on the state in early July and shut down all bars (which remain closed even now), arguing that if Texans didn’t do something to slow down infections the curve would soar to the point where shutting down became the only way to flatten it. In some ways Johnson’s new orders are less draconian than Abbott’s: For instance, bars can stay open but they have to close every evening at 10 p.m. and all staff must wear masks. In other ways, Johnson’s gone past what Abbott demanded: The “rule of six” limits gatherings throughout the UK to no more than six people in most cases.
And Johnson’s not being sanguine about how soon the new rules might be lifted. Prepare for a long haul, he told Parliament today.
Johnson had told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Tuesday that barring a vaccine or new forms of mass testing, “we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months.”
He said that if the new curbs did not slow the outbreak, “we reserve the right to deploy greater firepower, with significantly greater restrictions.”…
Just last month [the Tory government] was encouraging people back to pubs and restaurants with a discount scheme. Only weeks ago, Johnson was encouraging workers to go back into offices to keep city centers from becoming ghost towns, and had even expressed hope that society could return to normal by Christmas.
Some local leaders have gone further than Johnson. In Scotland the “rule of six” also includes a rule that says those six people can come from a maximum of two households. But lockdowns are out for the moment, not just in the UK but in the harder-hit countries on the continent:
In France, new infections have been rising rapidly, averaging around 8,300 cases a day. But so far, the increase hasn’t led to a significant rise in the number of deaths. French authorities have recently reported a few dozen deaths a day linked to the coronavirus, compared with more than 500 a day in April at the peak of the crisis.
“The government will need to make a certain number of difficult decisions within the next eight to 10 days,” Dr. Jean-François Delfraissy, who leads the scientific board advising French authorities on how to tackle the pandemic, said last week.
French President Emmanuel Macron bristled at the suggestion, saying that the government was aiming to slow down contagion while continuing to let people live as normally as possible, and that scientists don’t make policy. “Everyone must stay in their place. It is up to democratically elected leaders to make decisions,” Mr. Macron said.
A noteworthy line from Johnson’s speech is that the virus is no less lethal now than it was in the spring. That *may* not be true. Bearing in mind that deaths are a lagging indicator, typically not peaking until a month or so after cases have peaked, here’s what the UK’s death curve looks like right now:
Deaths in Spain and France have risen lately, with each country recently notching its highest single-day total since May. Yesterday, though, Spain recorded 56 deaths while France recorded 53. At their worst in the spring, the former country saw nearly a thousand deaths in a day while the latter topped 1,400. Hmmm.
Here’s Johnson. Note the part where he rejects the idea of locking up the elderly and letting everyone else go about their business, reasoning that as cases explode among the younger population they’ll inevitably find their way into those quarantined senior populations. Locking up the elderly was part of the UK’s strategy in the earliest days of the pandemic, which Johnson quickly abandoned once modelers showed him the sort of death that might result even among non-elderly people if the virus had its run of the place.