We should switch to using cellular lockdown

The Telegraph contains an excellent resource that show the current spread of known cases of COVID19 in the UK:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/03/29/coronavirus-uk-how-many-cases-covid-19/

As you can see from the graphic, the disease is far from uniformly spread, even allowing for population density. Some areas (let’s call them cells, just like in mobile phone networks) such as Somerset, Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Cheshire and even East Sussex have fewer than 100 cases per million, while Barnsley has 250 and some areas of London have far more, with Wandsworth and Westminster around 800, Harrow and Brent around 900, and Southwark over 1000.

There are some things that should clearly be left to expert epidemiologists, but you don’t need any medical expertise to know that you are more likely to be infected by someone who has the disease than by someone who doesn’t. Even if all you know about someone is where they have come from, you can still infer that the risk of them infecting you is higher if they have come from a high-infection area.

Containment of the disease would be better if people in low infection areas were protected from having people come in from highly infected areas, who by definition are more likely to have it.

Cellular lock-down would prevent people moving between cells with markedly different infection rates. A few people obviously genuinely need to, but stricter precautions could be imposed for that truly essential travel. A higher bar could be put on definitions of essential travel when it is between cells, and high risk people could even be separated from low risk ones on transport – the very few people who really need to commute to a highly infected area could be forced to use their own cars for example, or taxis, while other people much less likely to be infected might use regular public transport. In areas with low infection rates, people might be able to have lock-down eased.

In large commuting areas such as London, people from any area may work in any other, and many of those currently forced onto densely packed tube platforms and trains are truly essential workers. However, areas have very different infection rates. Some simple principles could be used here too.

Companies that employ staff from around London might be able to re-allocate some staff to their local areas. Some probably already have done this.

For special groups such as front-line medical staff, taxis could be used to get them to their hospitals and back, reducing what must currently be a strong cross-infection risk.

Since infection rates are very different in different areas, the tube system could separate high risk people from low risk ones by having separate trains. So for example ‘red’ trains might serve high-infection areas and ‘green’ trains serve low-infection areas. You would get a green permit if you both live and work in low-infection area, and a red one if you either live or work in a highly infected area. People with a red permit would only be permitted into stations when a red train is due, and green permit holders when a green train is coming. That would obviously mean that trains would have to be grouped somewhat, there would be a few red trains, then a few green ones. If everyone knows what time periods are red and green for a station, it would greatly assist in keeping infected people away from the uninfected. Since the walking part of their journey is likely to correlate with their train time, that would also reduce street level cross-infection too. If that isn’t enough streets could just as easily be ‘time-multiplexed’.

This could only work now because tube traffic demand is far lower than normal, otherwise it would be impossible, so it would be essential to maintain a London-wide lock-down for non-essential travel.

Red and green permits could have local use in the rest of the commuter belt too. Someone who commutes to an infected area would have a red permit, so may only be allowed to use supermarkets during red times. After a red shopping period, shops could be cleaned, then opened for much less restricted green shopping.

This kind of cellular approach would mean that those who present the greatest threat to others are physically separated from those who carry a low risk. They would use transport and supermarkets at different times, and travel between cells would be greatly reduced, and forced to use more controlled mechanisms.

It makes much better sense to me than the current system that applies exactly the same rules to the 1 in 25,000 Lincolnshire resident as the 1 in 1000 Southwark resident. If we continue to allow people likely to be infected to contaminate the rest, far more people will die and lock-down will have to be much stricter and longer.

2 responses to “We should switch to using cellular lockdown

  1. Pingback: How many extra deaths will result from current lockdown policy? | The more accurate guide to the future

  2. Pingback: A better lock-down alternative | The more accurate guide to the future

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