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Covid-19 lockdowns; what is the Exit Strategy?

Posted on 17th April 2020

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People are starting to ask "What is the Exit Strategy [from lockdown]?" and "Why is my government being so cagey about it?"

Your government is reluctant to explain their exit strategy because they believe (probable rightly) that you will be upset when you find out, so here is an explanation.

Governments want the lockdown to be as short as possible, because of the impact on the economy and their tax revenues.

The only purpose of the lockdown is to limit the rate of infection to something that a country's medical infrastructure can handle. As long as hospitals and medical services can cope, governments want the infection rate to be as high as possible. Catching Covid-19 is the only way that the population can currently get immunity, and this will remain so until an effective and safe vaccine is widely available (probably not before the end of 2021), and widespread immunity is necessary before ending the lockdown is possible (see this report on Slash-Gear about an MIT modeling study which shows that easing lockdowns too soon will result in "Disaster").

Several countries (e.g. Denmark, Austria and Germany) are beginning to gradually ease their lockdowns. They are doing this because their medical infrastructure is coping. They want to increase their rates of infection (within the limits of their medical infrastructure), to reduce the lengths of their lockdowns. If this increases their infection rates, and the resulting need for hospitalisations, by too much, they will make the lockdowns stricter; if not, they will continue gradual easing.

That, in a nutshell, is the exit strategy: maximise infection rates within manageable limits to spread immunity as fast as possible, so that lockdowns can be ended as soon as possible. This is similar to parents who deliberately expose their kids to childhood diseases like measles and chicken-pox (e.g. by sending them to "measles parties").

Covid-19 is not about to be defeated (there is no sign of a treatment or vaccine in the near future). Your government is going to manage your exposure to the disease, to ensure that you can get back to work as soon as possible. If some people die along the way, so be it.

All this might sound brutal and morally bankrupt, but no-one has a better strategy. No nation can afford to stay in lockdown until a vaccine is available.