Up to 20,000 British military service personnel are to be put on standby as the UK moves to step up its efforts to combat the coronavirus, according to a statement from the defense ministry on Thursday.
The move comes as the capital London closed 40 tube stations, marking a step towards more stringent lockdown measures in the country. The UK had previously resisted calls to take stringent measures to prevent mass gatherings.
The number of troops on standby is double the 10,000 already on standby. The country has experienced shortages of toilet roll and other goods in supermarkets, according to posts shared on social media, sparking concerns about the ability to cope with an increase in coronavirus measures.
Is the UK changing its approach?
The UK initially did not follow other countries and rushed to contain the virus using all means necessary. In contrast to other countries such as Italy and France, schools remained opened, and public gatherings permitted.
The aim of the strategy was to spread out the peak of the virus, ensuring that it did not spike at once, and to ensure that the population became immune to it in the long run.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the government, told Sky News last week that the UK’s strategy was to “suppress” the virus rather than completely “get rid of it” – a long-term strategy in which a certain amount of the population is allowed to contract the disease once to build immunity to it a second time.
The strategy outlined by Vallance is known as building “herd immunity.”
Human bodies fight infectious diseases through their immune systems, which often retain a immunological memory of a disease once they recover from it, allowing it to better fight off the disease when coming into contact with it again in the future.
Herd immunity refers to the state in which the majority of the population – the herd – has contracted and survived a disease, and is therefore immune to contracting and spreading it a second time.
However, the strategy has significant risks. The major problem with trying to achieve herd immunity is that tolerating the spread of the disease will inevitably infect and kill a significant part of the population, which could potentially be avoided by containing the disease.
Of the 40 million people that Vallance said would need to contract the disease for the UK to achieve herd immunity, around 80 percent or 32 million are expected to experience only mild symptoms. However, this still leaves the remaining 8 million with severe symptoms. Even with a low mortality rate, at least 300,000 people could die.
With the latest measures, it now seems that the UK government is moving towards more of a lockdown strategy, aimed at limiting human contact when possible.
- With Reuters.