It is not often that I say this. In fact, I rarely do. But I feel sorry for governments.
In the midst of this second coronavirus wave, battering every part of Europe, they are having to make difficult and, in some cases, impossible decisions: protecting lives, primarily the elderly, from a deadly disease, while trying to keep businesses open, and people in jobs.
Clamping down too harshly, or locking down again, will not just ensure a deeper recession but also adversely impact treatments for other diseases such as cancer. Domestic abuse incidents increased throughout Europe during the spring lockdown, and there are fears about what prolonged isolation, coupled with uncertainty, is doing to our mental health. That’s on top of school closures which could leave a generation without a full education, hitting the poorest the hardest.
Not a surprise, then, that even the World Health Organisation is advising against returning to the measures taken in March and April. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Director in Europe, told me lockdowns should only ever be used as “a last resort”. The alternative is equally grim. We know coronavirus kills some of the most vulnerable in our society. Hundreds of thousands have died in Europe, and more than a million worldwide. We can’t simply do nothing. Nor can we carry on as we did before.
Yes, we have become so much better at treating people who’ve been infected. Today, even those who end up in intensive care are more likely to live than was the case earlier this year. But if hospitals become overwhelmed again, that progress will be wasted. Yet again, doctors and nurses will have to make decisions about whom to treat, who lives, and who dies.