Should lockdowns be all-or-nothing? Is the Netherland’s model of a ‘partial lockdown’ one that other countries should adopt?

With the possibility of yet another lockdown being raised, it might be time to consider how other models worked in different countries...

Katie Hind
24th November 2021
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Lockdown has been a decisive, albeit not always swift, course of action that many countries have adopted. By April 2020, over 3.9 billion people in more than 90 countries were in some form of lockdown; whether that was confinement, curfew or quarantine.

We’ve watched as countries have bounced between complete shutdown and more localised, targeted lockdowns. Take the United States, for example. Here, each state has its own parameters, without much national oversight. In whatever form lockdowns have occurred, it’s indisputable that they have potentially saved millions of lives. I do, however, take issue with the idea of lockdowns as an all-or-nothing pursuit. That is, I don’t believe we can (or should) go to either extreme.

If you simplify a lockdown to all-or-nothing, what you’re really asking is: should we quarantine indefinitely, with strict guidelines on where we go and who we see, or should we invest in no lockdown whatsoever, running the risk of mass – and deadly – transmission? Neither extreme option sounds that great.

In whatever form lockdowns have occurred, it's indisputable that they have potentially saved millions of lives

We absolutely cannot dive into extremes when it comes to fighting COVID. Lockdowns should never be all-or-nothing. Both ends of the spectrum can have a direct impact on a person’s health, income and mental wellbeing. Human lives are at risk, and not just from infectious disease, so compromise is essential.

Some see the Netherlands as a fairly decent halfway point. Their ‘partial lockdown’ model is self-described as an ‘intelligent’ lockdown. The Netherlands began in the same position as much of Europe in the early stages of the pandemic. Their initial decisions regarding lockdown are comparable to those taken elsewhere.

The difference in the Netherlands’ model of lockdown is quite simple. It depended on individual choice, personal necessity and responsibility. That isn’t to say their government didn't outlined some strict guidelines - people where supposed to work from home where possible, and not go out with more than one person at a time.

We absolutely cannot dive into extremes when it comes to fighting COVID

Still, public spaces remained largely accessible, with no restrictions on travel or any repressive measures by law enforcement. Many businesses continue to function, even restaurants, through takeaway services. One could argue that the Netherlands adopted a ‘partial lockdown’ in order to reach a national balance between strict lockdown and flexible measures. This balance is as delicate as it sounds.

Netherlands’ COVID-19 infections are currently at a peak, with around 18,000 cases reported daily. Deaths are occurring at a rate of 24 per day. Lower than some countries, sure, but higher than others. We must remember that the Netherlands is unique – in terms of population density, lifestyle and even available medical resources. Their model, as balanced and intelligent as it might seem, cannot with confidence be adopted by other countries with an equally unique social, economic and political structure.

This might seem like a rather nebulous answer but simply put: one size really doesn’t fit all. We cannot conclusively say that this model should be adopted elsewhere (especially since doubts are circulating about the efficiency of the model at home).

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