With an effective vaccine around 12 months away, governments the world over will probably steer this course in the interim.
Based on the best available epidemiological science, governments believe the following about COVID-19: there is no vaccine or effective treatment; it is possible people may become infected again, even after having contracted the virus; the virus is non-seasonal; people with robust immune systems and those under the age of 70 are unlikely to die, and far less likely to require hospitalization than those over the age of 70 or with compromised immune systems.
In addition, the most recent epidemiological studies confirm the following: a vaccine will take 12-18 months before it is widely available; suppression strategies (i.e., the most extreme levels of enforced social distancing, closures, and prohibitions) reduce the death rate by ~95% when compared to having no measures in place; mitigation strategies (mild to moderate social distancing, closures, and prohibitions) reduce the death rate by ~50% when compared to having no measures in place; to ensure a death rate in the lowest range, suppression strategies need to be in place until a vaccine or treatment is available (12-18 months).
Given that no economy can survive with the vast majority of its labor in enforced lockdown, and that no society can survive without its economy, it seems highly unlikely that any government will be able to maintain a suppression strategy (in its current format) for the period of time recommended by the most recent epidemiological studies (also a 12-18 month timeframe).
Those that fall into this “risk category” will not be allowed face-to-face visitation and must remain in their homes. Those in the risk category able to work from home, may, otherwise they will not be able to participate in economic or social life.
Therefore, it seems logical that, at a certain point, governments will decide to impose a “selective suppression” strategy, instead. Selective suppression would entail applying the current suppression measures only to those susceptible to death or hospitalization from COVID-19, while returning the balance of the population to productive economic activity. This means that those over 70, those with underlying health conditions, or those with some form of immune system compromise will remain in enforced lockdown until a vaccine or treatment is available. Those that fall into this “risk category” will not be allowed face-to-face visitation and must remain in their homes. Those in the risk category able to work from home may do so, otherwise they will not be able to participate in economic or social life.
Selective suppression would enable governments to provide a far higher caliber of targeted assistance to those in the risk category, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Those in the risk category could receive 100% of their minimum expenses paid (food, housing, utilities) and could be assured of the highest quality medical care, should they need it.
While it is possible that the onset of nationwide economic distress might make the general population receptive to a transition from the current strategy of suppression to a selective suppression strategy, it remains an open question how such a transition is politically possible. How will governments “sell” the idea to people?
What does not seem in doubt, however, is that the current suppression strategy is not a viable strategy for the medium-long term.