If we face another lockdown, it will be our own fault

We cannot predict the future, and we do not know whether another lockdown is coming. Instead, we do know what we can do to reduce COVID-19 spread, and it is our own choice whether we apply this knowledge or not. Consequently, it will be our own fault as a society, if there needs to be another lockdown. There will be nobody else to blame, just us.

Heated discussions surround the question of whether the UK will face another lockdown over autumn and winter. People in favour of relaxing restrictions argue that the vaccine roll-out has dramatically changed the dynamics of the pandemic. Indeed, the number of deaths among individuals with confirmed COVID-19 cases has dropped. At the beginning, more than 1 in 100 individuals who were diagnosed with COVID-19 died. Now, this number is closer to 1 in 500. Opponents of restrictions also point towards the collateral damage that is caused by the COVID-19 measures with regard to the economy, mental health, education, and non-COVID-19 diseases.

People who are sceptical of the removal of all restrictions are concerned by the high number of infected individuals. Currently, there are around 30,000 new cases in the UK every day and about 8,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals. At the same time last year, we had about 4,000 cases per day and about 1,000 hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Autumn and winter are expected to increase COVID-19 spread, as people gather more in crowded indoor spaces that are poorly ventilated. Moreover, there are indications that the protection provided by the vaccines may start to wane over the coming months. There is also the risk of the emergence of new variants that partially or totally undo our vaccine efforts. Finally, high COVID-19 numbers and the strain that they pose on the healthcare system and general society also cause substantial collateral damage.

There is also disagreement about what should be regarded as a successful approach towards COVID-19. Some people think that successful means that intensive care unit beds are available for everyone, who is seriously ill. Others think that we should go further to protect lives and keep infection numbers low, as we still see about 1,000 hospitalisations and 100 deaths every day.

Whatever we may think about COVID-19, it is important to realise that nobody is able to predict what is going to happen this winter. Most experts expected to see about 100,000 (some even 200,000) cases per day after the removal of restrictions. Fortunately, this has not happened, but we do not know why. Such knowledge gaps mean that the next time that we get it wrong, the outcome might be worse than expected.

Although we cannot predict the future, we know exactly which actions increase and decrease the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 spreads, when many people are in close contact. If we keep our distance wherever possible, wear face masks, avoid stuffy rooms, wash our hands, get vaccinated, and test ourselves regularly, we can reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread. Hence, we can influence the risk of future COVID-19 surges and at the same time the likelihood that restrictions are needed. As a society and as individuals, we decide whether we slow down or accelerate in front of a blind bend. If we decide to continue accelerating, as we are currently are, we must be aware that this is associated with an increased risk of a COVID-19 surge that may require the reintroduction of restrictions. If restrictions are needed, there will be nothing inevitable about this. Such restrictions will be the consequence of the decisions that we will have (hopefully consciously) taken. Hence, if COVID-19 restrictions are introduced again, we have to realise we have nobody but ourselves to blame.