On a lockdown: There is a path forward, now let’s take it!


IO – The ensuing panic around the worid in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is understandable. After all, not even the experts know for sure how many of us will become infected. Uncertainty has driven markets to historic lows, and governments have justifiably felt compelled to order lockdowns and prepare trillions of dollars in stimulus packages in a bid to stave off an economic meltdown. 

Sobering news, for sure, but one Nobel Prize winner has good reason to believe the crisis could end much sooner than we have been led to believe. But that is only if we do the right things. 

Michael Levitt, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in chemistry, has been closely watching the coronavirus since it first broke out in Wuhan. After looking at the trajectory of the virus’ spread, he predicted with remarkable accuracy that China would have 80,000 confirmed cases and 3,250 deaths (as of mid-March, the actual number of confirmed cases was 80,298 and there were 3,245 deaths). 

Now, Levitt is analyzing data from 78 countries and studying the daily number of new COVID-19 cases. What›s important to note is that he is not fixated on the total number of cases, but rather the change in reported new cases from one day to the next. Once he sees a continuing drop in the daily cases, that is a sure sign that recovery is not far behind. 

According to Levitt, many countries are now showing signs of a recovery. In South Korea, the daily number of new cases has decreased in recent weeks, remaining below 200. In Iran, the pattern of daily cases has flattened, which Levitt believes is an indicator the outbreak is past the halfway mark. 

Still, even though the data shows the virus can be contained within a matter of months, there is no reason to become complacent. Places that have recovered and are no longer under lockdown now risk a second wave of infections. 

More important is we must be cognizant of the fact that a flattening of the curve and recovery is directly related to how quickly and effectively governments respond once an outbreak occurs. Quickly testing people on a mass scale, enforcing self-quarantine for infected people, isolating those who require health care, tracing contacts with those who have tested positive and social distancing are all necesssary measures. Countries that fail to do so will find a much steeper and more prolonged curve than those who are taking the right steps towards containment. 

Unfortunately, Indonesia has lost precious time because of its late response to the outbreak. Jakarta, the epicenter of the outbreak, is still an open city, and the virus has now spread to 24 provinces. Without any directives for total lockdowns, we risk a massive increase in infections with a healthcare system that is woefully underprepared. 

Now the question is, will the Jokowi administration change course, recognize the scale of the problem for what it is and take necessary measures such as lockdowns when they are needed? 

Some important steps have been already taken, such as religious leaders asking mosques to close their doors to avoid further contagion. The national government has announced it will not provide additional transportation for those wishing to visit their hometowns during the Idhul Fitri holiday, which is even wiser to avoid a wider spread of the virus. 

At the same time, one cannot but have the impression that much more needs to done in order to save lives. We should be looking at what others are doing, at what works. Levitt›s data proves that countries can recover in the space of 2-3 months, but only if tough decisions are made. Ordering lockdowns is one of them.