Coronavirus: is the ‘cure’ worse than the disease?

So the government has now confirmed that churches and other religious gatherings are included in the ‘social distancing’ they are advising all to observe.  Anglicans await guidance from their bishops about what this means in practice.

It is disappointing that the government only mentioned this in answer to a question rather than as a key part of the original public announcement. Is it a sign of how few in government are religiously observant, or how little regard they have for churches and religion, that they would make a point of mentioning ‘pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs’ but not churches, even though they were included?

How long will the social distancing be for? According to the BBC it could go on for up to 18 months, until a vaccine is available:

The UK’s plan has shifted because the scientific modelling showed we were on course for a “catastrophic epidemic”… The modelling by Imperial College London has been heavily informed by the experience in Italy and is influencing decisions at the heart of government. Its calculations predicted 260,000 deaths in the UK. Instead the plan is to drive down the number of cases to very low levels, which the models predict will limit deaths from coronavirus to the thousands or tens of thousands. However, this approach comes with a major problem – there is no exit strategy. Without the immunity that would build up if people were infected, then cases would soar as soon as measures are lifted. The report said these could need to be in place until a vaccine is available, which could take up to 18 months. We are in this for the long haul. 

It should be obvious that this is totally unworkable. Countries cannot go into lock-down for a year or more. We will be back to the Stone Age, and many more will die from the consequences of such drastic action (isolation, destitution, despair) than would die from this virus. It is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease.

The modelling is based on the Italian experience, which is the worst so far around the world with the highest proportion of deaths.

However, figures from the last few days suggest new cases may be flattening off there, as they have in other countries such as China and South Korea.


Is that because of lock down? Possibly. But notice that new cases have tailed off in South Korea as well, where there has been no lock down (though much testing), and in a matter of weeks.

Capture SK

The virus also has not spread so much in other parts of China and in some neighbouring countries, possibly because of temperature differences.

Could it be that we will start to see cases in Italy (and Iran and other badly affected countries) tail off in the next couple of weeks, as they have elsewhere? If we do, perhaps the government will realise that the model they are relying on is flawed, and that the experience of countries like South Korea shows that extreme lock down is not necessary to prevent ‘catastrophic epidemic’.

Coronavirus has been much worse than the SARS and Bird Flu outbreaks of recent years, in that there have been large-scale outbreaks around the world that never materialised with those earlier infections. However, all the data on Covid-19 from different countries suggest that new cases begin to tail off after a few weeks, and do so independently of whether the country implements extreme lock-down measures or none.

We may well find that when this is over there will be important lessons to be learned about not over-reacting to new flu-like viruses, and not implementing extreme measures that isolate and impoverish people and do more harm than good.

3 thoughts on “Coronavirus: is the ‘cure’ worse than the disease?

Add yours

  1. Will, is South Korea a good example as I understand that half of all Covid-19 cases there were in a single religious sect which behaved irresponsibly?


  2. “Without the immunity that would build up if people were infected, then cases would soar as soon as measures are lifted.”

    This is the critical point to consider in the debate about self-isolation and the closedown of businesses, schools etc.. Without a vaccine, unless we could be certain that were no more virus carriers at a point in the future (which practically speaking we never could be) we are simply kicking the can down the road.

    Compared with pandemics in the past COVID-19 is relatively minor. There is too much contrived panic at present about a virus, which is less threatening than our annual experience of sepsis, TB and the annual influenza threat.



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