We now know enough about the virus to look at hospital figures and work backwards, drawing a chart of its likely infection rate. These tend to draw a different shape: the infection rate rising, hitting a peak, then falling fast. But what makes it fall? Lockdown – or something else? Norway found that the virus had peaked before lockdown and was in fast decline. This led the Norwegian public health chief to say that they could have controlled it without locking down – relying, instead, on the social distancing going on at the time. This is relevant, the Norwegians say, because if there is a second wave we need to be brutally honest about what works and what does not.
It shows that infections peaked about five days before lockdown and were in fast decline by the time it was introduced. Several social distancing measures were already in place by then – but all on a voluntary, rather than compulsory basis. ‘It is suggestive that pre-lockdown social distancing may have been sufficient for the fatal infections to have started declining in England and Wales some time before lockdown,’ Prof. Wood tells me. This does not say that lockdown was pointless: the decline in infections might have been far less steep without it.