The chart above was created by Esther Kim and Carl T. Bergstrom to help explain the importance of impeding the spread of infection, so that health services do not collapse under the weight of new cases. The longer the health service can keep going, the more lives are saved.
However, the important thing to understand about this chart is that the area under each curve — the number of infected people — is the same. We expect to get the same number of cases, helping to create the “herd immunity", with less people dying.
The Washington Post shared some great visuals today: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/
These show how the more you restrict the movement and interaction of people, the more you change how flat the curve is. More restriction means a flatter curve and also a longer period of overall pandemic. Because of the impacts on society, we don’t really want this dragging out too long, therefore there is a big balancing game to play. A game played with people as counters, so we need them to get it as right as possible.
The governments have a number of levers to pull to help them control these restrictions. For example, closing schools is a big one. Limiting public gatherings is another. Restricting social groupings another. It gets to a place where people are restricted to only leaving their homes to go to work, buy food, or visit a pharmacy.
Each government will pull their levers when their own models tell them it is the right time. These will generally be based (we hope) on good science and data. Different countries have different models — because they are different — so may pull the levers at different times. This is to be expected.
After all the levers are pulled, we might expect that the rate of infection will start to tail off, but actually we don’t want that! We still need to get to the peak infection rate. If we tail off too quickly, the immunity is not fully established in the population and there is a risk of a new epidemic in the country.
This is where the stupid and the arrogant come in. Mostly people in their 20s who do not yet have a fully formed social conscience but are beyond parental control. People who believe that either they will not get infected or, if they do, it is not a big deal.
These are the people who will resist social distancing. They will go to pubs or house parties. They will get infected, they will pass it on to colleagues, friends and family.
But we should forgive them. While the rest of us are tucked up in our homes, they will continue to be the vectors of infection that we actually need.