Executive Education


16 Mar 2020

Controlling the spread of coronavirus without shutting down society


Taking no action to curb the spread of COVID-19 would lead to an uncontrolled outbreak but completely isolating people would have a devasting impact on the economy.

This is the dilemma currently faced by the UK Government and international administrations across the world.

Balancing the response is imperative, says Dr Duncan Robertson, an expert in dynamic modelling from Loughborough University’s School of Business and Economics.

“The Government is facing a choice,” says Dr Robertson.

“Can we control the spread of Coronavirus, and if so, how?

“The UK’s current policy is not to restrict social gatherings.

“So, mainly we are in business as usual – people interact almost normally, going to large events

“The virus is spreading, and people who catch it spread to others.

“Without action, this can lead to uncontrolled spread.

“This completely overwhelms the capacity of the national health service, and the death rate goes up as a result, as people who could have been treated are not treated.

“Alternatively, we can completely isolate people.

“They don’t interact, there is a terrific social cost, and the spread of the virus takes a very long time.

“So, we need to optimize the spread of the virus – controlling the spread and matching it to national health service capacity.”

Social distancing – a tenet of public health response – is one of the talked about options for responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

At its heart is the idea that there is a Goldilocks zone for keeping people apart – not to close, and not too far – which will allow for optimal control of the spread of the virus.

  • Close Contact, where the population is infected very rapidly. This is not A Good Thing – the national health service is overwhelmed, and the death rate goes up as a result
  • Extreme Distancing, where the viral spread takes too long. This is not A Good Thing – the social and economic costs are huge
  • Optimal Distancing, where the spread is controlled and the human, social, and economic costs are optimized. This is A Good Thing. It is also very tricky to get right.

Dr Robertson is available for interviews.

Read more on his blog, here.