Unlike the blanket stay-at-home orders that characterized responses to Covid-19’s first wave, a partial lockdown isn’t designed to stop transmission completely. Instead, the idea is to home in on hot spots — certain neighborhoods, nightclubs or private parties, for example — while leaving large parts of the economy open for business.
With death rates running at only a small fraction of the levels last spring despite surging infections in France, Spain, the U.K. and other countries, governments want to avoid draconian measures that caused their worst recessions in memory. Partial and shifting lockdowns are likely to become the norm into next year at least, as countries wait for an immunization that’s effective and broadly accessible.
One lesson from the Asia-Pacific region, further along in the pandemic timeline, is that Lockdown Lite works only when paired with a broader strategy of testing and tracing. Europe’s inability to meet surging demand for testing and some countries’ lack of tracing capacity suggest the region could struggle with the new approach.
Across western Europe this week, authorities have cracked down on nightlife, restricted gatherings and tightened rules on mask-wearing in public spaces. In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked residents to work from home for six months if they can and ordered pubs and restaurants to close at 10 p.m.
The goal should be to create a sustainable situation where schools and economies aren’t hobbled by the virus, rather than simply hoping that a vaccine will soon solve the problem, said Robert Schooley, infectious disease specialist at the University of California San Diego.