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Commentary: As new COVID-19 wave hits cities, here’s how we avoid a pattern of lockdown, relax and repeat

Not only do lockdowns incur serious social costs, but their effectiveness is diminished by fatigue to reimposed restrictions, says an observer.

Commentary: As new COVID-19 wave hits cities, here’s how we avoid a pattern of lockdown, relax and repeat

FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol the grounds outside a public housing tower, reopened the previous night after being locked down in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Melbourne, Australia, July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

MELBOURNE: The World Health Organization reported more than 230,000 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday (Jul 12) – the world’s largest daily increase during the pandemic. The surge has forced governments in many places across the world to order new lockdowns.

This includes Melbourne, which is back in a six-week lockdown after a second wave of new cases exceeded the city’s first peak in late March.

But Melbourne’s not the only city to suffer a second wave of the pandemic. Cities including Beijing and Leicester had lifted COVID-19 restrictions, only to re-enforce them when new outbreaks occurred.

So how have other cities gone about their second lockdown, and have the measures been effective in tackling the COVID-19 resurgence? Let’s take a look at a few examples.

READ: Commentary: Lockdown and isolation sound simple – but keeping people at home is no easy answer

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Though there’s no strict definition of a lockdown, it describes the controls imposed by governments to restrict the movement of people in their communities. It’s often achieved through a combination of police presence and applying public health regulations.

It can be implemented partially, progressively or fully. The latter is called “hard lockdown” when the freedom of entry to, and exit from, either an entire building or geographic area is prohibited or limited.

The Segria region in Catalonia, Spain re-entered an indefinite partial lockdown on Jul 4 following a significant spike in cases and COVID-19 hospitalisations.

The city of Leicester in the United Kingdom has gone into a second lockdown after it accounted for 10 per cent of all positive COVID-19 cases in the country at the end of June. The city has been in lockdown for the past two weeks and despite this, the latest data show an increase in the numbers of cases.

People wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak are seen on a road in Beijing, China July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

A second wave in Beijing was tackled by increasing degrees of lockdowns. The strictest measures were limited to a few high-risk neighbourhoods, accompanied by a ring of looser lockdown measures around them.

Alongside this was extensive and widespread testing, with a peak capacity of 300,000 tests per day. This approach proved successful – the city reported zero new COVID-19 cases on Jul 7.

While there are increasing examples of a return to some lockdown measures, there are no examples demonstrating the success of a second lockdown –other than in Beijing – because it’s too early to tell.

READ: Commentary: Life in China after COVID-19 lockdown gives normal new meaning


When entering a second lockdown, it’s useful to consider the lessons learnt from the first. Initial lockdowns in both Italy and India provide cautionary tales on what happens when public messaging and enforcement are flawed.

Italian media published information about internal movement restrictions a day before the Italian prime minister officially announced it and signed the decree. At the time, only northern Italy was heavily affected by COVID-19.

After the news spread, workers and students, many of whom carried the virus, rushed back home across the country, flooding the train stations.

READ: Commentary: Europe learns lifting COVID-19 lockdowns doesn’t come cheap

Even though the goal was to reduce the spread of the virus, the effects were the opposite. Soon after, it was discovered that new COVID-19 cases in southern Italy were families from students who came home from the north.

Similar panic among migrant workers occurred in India when the prime minister gave the public only a few hours’ notice before the start of the lockdown. This is just one reason why India’s lockdown has been labelled a spectacular failure.

READ: Commentary: India’s struggle with COVID-19 could get much worse


After a lockdown, the majority of the population remains at risk of infection without a vaccine. So as restrictions ease, cases are likely to increase again, leading to a pattern of lockdowns, relaxation and renewed lockdowns.

A sanitation worker cleans a bench outside the single remaining public housing tower under a lockdown in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Melbourne, Australia July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

So why can’t governments just aim to eliminate the virus? An elimination strategy requires strict, intensive lockdowns and closing external and internal borders to eradicate local transmission and prevent the virus being imported.

Elimination strategies have worked in only a few countries and regions, such as New Zealand which imposed an early and strict lockdown.

The effectiveness of lockdowns can be diminished by increasing population fatigue in response to reimposed restrictions.

READ: Commentary: We have much to learn from COVID-19 and the lockdowns

Lockdowns also have many serious repercussions, including a severe impact on mental health and the economy. French Prime Minister Jean Castex has ruled out another total lockdown arguing that its economic and human consequences are disastrous.

Locking down a given country can cost up to 3 per cent of GDP per month, according to UBS Global Wealth Management.

It’s clear that lockdowns cannot be maintained indefinitely. That’s why the rapid development of a vaccine to achieve herd immunity, without extensive infection, is critical – along with the development of drugs to relieve the symptoms of COVID-19.

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Maximilian de Courten is Health Policy Lead and Professor in Global Public Health at the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University. Bojana Klepac Pogrmilovic is Research Fellow in Health Policy at the same institute. Rosemary V Calder is Professor, Health Policy at the same institute.

This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.

Source: CNA/el


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