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Forty-six million citizens in Spain are on lockdown after the government in Madrid imposed measures to contain the novel coronavirus.
Speaking in a televised address on Saturday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told the public that tight restrictions on movement and the closing of restaurants and other businesses would go into effect in a two-week state of emergency. Effective immediately, only grocery stores and pharmacies will stay open during this period.
“From now, we enter into a new phase,” Sánchez said during the address. “We won’t hesitate in doing what we must to beat the virus. We are putting health first.”
After the speech, the government announced that Sánchez’s wife, Begonia Sánchez, had recently tested positive for the virus.
In total, Spain has seen over 6,200 cases and 193 people have died, up from 120 deaths reported on Friday.
Europe on alert
Spain is the second country in Europe to lockdown its citizens. Italy, the first, announced its first set of restrictions last week in the hardest-hit northern regions, recently expanding it to cover the whole country.
France, meanwhile, although not imposing a full lockdown, has ordered the closings of all major tourist attractions, restaurants and cafes. Keeping on with other countries that are restricting travel like the United States and New Zealand, Poland started a ban on all foreigners from entering the country starting on February 15.
“Herd immunity" in the UK
The United Kingdom, by contrast, is considering a different approach, which has received significant criticism.
Instead of imposing quarantines and lockdowns to fight the virus, the UK government is considering the continuation of a more hands-off approach in a bid to increase the public’s immunity.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said that the aim is to “reduce the peak, broaden the peak (of the virus), not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission.”
Estimates indicate, however, that about 60% of the UK’s population would need to be exposed to the virus for herd immunity to work. In response, 240 UK scientists sent an open letter to the government, criticizing that approach.
Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection that takes place when a significant portion of a population grows immune to an infection and thus providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune. While much remains unknown about the virus, in a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Thursday, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease claimed that it is highly unlikely that once one recovers from the virus, that they would get reinfected.
According to Prof. Willem van Schaik at Birmingham University, at least 36 million people will need to be infected and recover for a herd immunity policy to be successful in the UK – an approach that is believed to also lead to many unnecessary deaths.
“It is almost impossible to predict what that will mean in terms of human costs, but we are conservatively looking at tens of thousands of deaths, and possibly at hundreds of thousands of deaths,” he said.
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