Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With the world shutting down and spreading out, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has — in the course of four days — shown what an alternative approach to the coronavirus pandemic might look like, and why it's nearly impossible to execute.

The big picture: Johnson, flanked by his scientific advisers, laid out a strategy premised on some crucial concessions: tens of millions of Britons could be infected, many would die, and the danger would loom for many months — with fresh waves expected in the autumn and beyond.

  • Johnson eschewed lockdowns and closures like those being implemented around Europe. They'd either have to remain in place for several months, he said, or be loosened when the risk of infection was even higher. 
  • The economic and social costs would be tremendous. People would only willingly comply for so long.

Johnson — who has throughout the crisis abandoned populist bravado in favor of somber deference to expertise — charted a different course last Thursday:

  • The U.K. would try to shield those most at risk of death or serious illness while allowing others to go about the world more or less as normal — isolating themselves at home for a week only if they begin to experience symptoms.
  • Most would recover without the need for hospitalization, or even a test.
  • “By the time they come out of their cocooning,” chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said of at-risk individuals, “herd immunity has been achieved in the rest of the population.”
  • The policy response would be dialed up as needed to prevent hospitals from being overrun. Schools and pubs may well close, but not until it was both necessary and effective.

There were at least two major vulnerabilities to Johnson’s plan: 

  1. What if the initial spread grew out of control before policies could be ratcheted up?
  2. What if the more stringent measures taken elsewhere in Europe succeeded in slowing the spread, while the U.K. marched on toward tens of thousands of deaths?

Driving the news: It was the first scenario, along with public pressure, that forced Johnson’s hand today.

  • Four days after estimating the U.K. was a month behind Italy’s trajectory, Vallance said it was more like three week. The danger in London was growing faster still.
  • With the U.K. entering the “fast-growth part of the upward curve” ahead of schedule, Johnson asked the British people to work from home when possible and avoid nearly all “social contact” — no pub visits, soccer matches or dense crowds.
  • He asked high-risk individuals to isolate themselves for 12 weeks, beginning this weekend. School closures could be next.
"Clearly what we’re announcing today is a very significant change in the way we want people to live their lives, and I can’t remember anything like it in my lifetime. I don’t think there’s really been anything like it in peacetime. And we have to accept that it’s a very significant psychological, behavioral change that we’re asking you, we’re asking the public, the nation to do."
— Boris Johnson

The bottom line: The U.K.’s approach is starting to converge with those of similarly affected countries. It’s easier to join the herd than set off on your own.

Go deeper

ActBlue collects record-breaking $30 million in hours after Ginsburg's death

Mourners place flowers, messages, and mementos at a makeshift memorial in honor of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the US Supreme Court on September 19. Photo: Samuel Corum / Getty Images

ActBlue, the Democratic donation-processing site, reported a record-breaking $30 million raised from 9 p.m. Friday to 9 a.m. Saturday in the aftermath of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, NPR writes and ActBlue confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters via the New York Times: "The unprecedented outpouring shows the power of a looming Supreme Court confirmation fight to motivate Democratic donors."

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 30,557,899 — Total deaths: 952,981— Total recoveries: 20,822,644Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 6,730,304 — Total deaths: 198,679 — Total recoveries: 2,556,465 — Total tests: 93,150,052Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: The dwindling chances of eliminating COVID-19 — Massive USPS face mask operation called off — How the American diet worsens COVID-19.
  5. Business: Unemployment drop-off reverses course 1 million mortgage-holders fall through safety net.
  6. Education: At least 42% of school employees are vulnerable.
  7. World: Guatemalan president tests positive for COVID-19.

Trump says Republicans have an "obligation" to fill Ginsburg's seat

President Trump. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

President Trump wrote in a tweet Saturday morning that Republicans have an "obligation" to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court following her death Friday.

What he's saying: "We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices," the president said, tagging the Republican Party. "We have this obligation, without delay!"