Published 13 May 2020
For most people, it is two months since they have been able to get a good haircut - longer for anyone that didn't see the lockdown coming. This is because of stringent lockdown measures that have been important for reducing the spread of the Covid-19 disease and pressure on our health service.*
The questions now are: which measures can be relaxed, and when should they be reintroduced if there's an outbreak?
While this is the UK's first pandemic in generations, there is a lot of learning coming from other countries. Helpfully Oxford has compiled research on the measures that Governments around the world have taken to control the spread of the disease. These measures are then summarised in the form of a Government Response Stringency Index, which has been recorded over time.
The chart below presents the Stringency Index at an early stage in each countries epidemic against current cumulative deaths in that country.**
Countries like Belgium, Spain, France and the UK began with more lenient measures and now have high per capita Covid-19 deaths. On the other hand, countries like New Zealand, Australia and Turkey started early with strict rules and have had relatively fewer Covid-19 deaths per capita to date.
There will be other factors affecting this relationship, such as how well measures are enforced or population density, but the early and strict implementation of containment policies appears to reduce the number of Covid-19 deaths. This is important for recovery as it would suggest that quick and firm action is needed if there is an outbreak (hopefully detected through good testing).
This also helps to identify aspects of a lockdown that may be less effective or can be relaxed more quickly. For example, both Australia and New Zealand have had relatively few deaths per head of population, but Australia has had less stringent measures - being able to get a haircut being my highlight.
As the world gets better at dealing with this pandemic, the evidence around the effectiveness of different policies will improve. At the risk of redrafting recovery strategies and communicating new information, this evidence shouldn't be ignored. It will help to control outbreaks and also help get people back to work.
* The reopening of barbers and hairdressers will not happen until at least the 4th of July. While this may seem a long way off, it will likely be sooner than NHS planned operations are fully resumed due to ongoing Covid-19 demands and the prospect of latent demand for NHS services. Both will have long waiting lists - here is our analysis of the potential impact on the NHS waiting list.
** We compare the Stringency Index when countries reached one recorded covid-19 case per 100, 000 population to cumulative covid-19 deaths to date - this emphasises the importance of early action.