COVID-19: Ethical guidelines for the Exit Strategy

The UK "Exit Strategy", which aims at safely easing the restrictions introduced in March 2020 to contain the COVID19 epidemics in the UK, needs to balance different values and priorities, beyond protecting the population from the virus. The task will be made even more difficult by the fact that Exit Strategy will have to be responsive to likely new spikes of COVID-19 cases, if not by an actual second wave of the virus. The response to the first wave has been a strict lockdown involving closure of most business activities, schools, and universities; reduction of services (e.g. public transport, postal services, etc); and requirements to remain at home except for basic needs, and to socially distance from other people  henever outside of one’s home. Both lockdown and the spread of the virus entail large costs in terms of lives lost, health (both physical and mental), and economic damage (job losses, recession, reductions in households’ income). Such costs have been and will likely be unevenly distributed across the population. Containing the virus with very restrictive  easures  uch as lockdowns is only ethically justified if the benefits outweigh the costs and there are no less restrictive alternatives that could plausibly achieve the same results. However, costs and benefits ought to be measured not only in terms of health and death toll of COVID-19, but also in terms of overall impact of such measures on the population’s wellbeing. Our  thical analysis is informed by the evidence on the effects of both the COVID-19 pandemics and the response measures adopted so far in the UK and elsewhere. It suggests that while there were strong ethical and public health reasons for imposing it at the beginning of the pandemic, at this moment there are strong ethical and public health reasons to prioritize less restrictive measure. The measures here listed would strike a more reasonable and sustainable balance among the values of health, life, healthcare delivery, fair distribution of burdens and benefits, freedoms and other individual rights, and ultimately wellbeing at the population. Open/download the Exit Statement PDF.

Supported by Dr Giubilini's UKRI/AHRC funded project "The Ethical Exit Strategy" [Grant number AH/V006819/1], the statement covers a range of recommendations and justifications including, but not limited to:

  • Selective shielding of vulnerable groups;
  • Effective testing and contact-tracing;
  • Quarantine policies;
  • Keeping schools open;
  • Adequately protecting and incentivising NHS staff; 
  • Introduction of "immunity passports"; and
  • Prioritising access to a vaccine.


Open/download the Exit Statement PDF.

Project webpage.

More free resources on Pandemic Ethics.