You can’t stop a virus from spreading that has already spread

This week the Welsh First Minister announced that people living in Tier 2 and 3 areas in England would be banned from entering Wales. Ostensibly this is to help prevent or reduce a spike of cases in Wales. I suspect that in reality, this is more about the type of political posturing I complained about the other day.

There are a number of problems with the proposal. Practically, this would be placing extra pressure on the police to presumably carry out stop and search activities on all the roads going in and out of Wales. It may not be possible or practical to identify where people are coming in from.  Legally, I would suggest that creating internal borders within the UK falls outside the powers of the Welsh Assembly. This is potentially Ultra Vires and subject to judicial review.  If people are not testing the legality it is probably because most people are in any case not choosing to travel at the moment.

My biggest problem with the policy though is that it seems to misunderstand infection control and so is unlikely to do anything. Firstly, if I turn up at the Welsh border, then it is highly unlikely that I will bring Coronavirus into Wales.  I’ve already had a dose of the virus and since then have been careful about social distancing. The nature of my work and the reality of the Tier 2 lockdown means that I have not been in houses with people that have the virus. Indeed the stricter measures here potentially mean that I prove less of a threat than people in Tier 1 areas! 

The point of restricting movement in and out of a contagious area is that you need to stop everyone from coming out of the area as happened in Wuhan. If you can do that and be 100% successful, then you will stop the virus spreading.

However, you will identify another weakness at this point. Whilst it made sense to shut borders and insist on quarantine whilst the virus was absent from the UK, it became pointless once the virus was actually here. The same applies internally. The matters very little that I travel with the virus to an area where others have the virus and are mixing. Such an approach will of course become useful again once we have begun to identify areas where the virus has either been eradicated or is close to being suppressed. So, localised lockdowns with travel restrictions require us not only to identify the areas where the virus is spiking but also areas where the virus is pretty much extinct. As well as quarantining those areas where there is a problem, we need to shield those areas where there still isn’t.

There is an expression, an English proverb about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. We are very good at doing that. We try to keep things secret that are common knowledge, we try to prevent the spread of viruses that are already out there in society, we try to pretend that gossip and slander hasn’t happened, we hold debates and discussions about false teaching that is already entrenched in people’s minds.

Whatever the “viral” problem is, it is important that we recognise how much damage it has already done and respond to the situation as is. Better still -nip things in the bud before they leak, spread and cause damage.

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