As many Western countries emerged from initial periods of lockdown in spring 2020, they had brought COVID-19 infection rates down significantly. This was followed, however, with more drastic second and third waves of viral spread, which many of these same countries are struggling to bring under control, even with the implementation of further periods of lockdown. Could this have been prevented by policymakers? We revisit two strategies that were focus of much discussion during the early stages of the pandemic, and which were implemented in several Western countries, albeit in a weakened form. These strategies both proceed by targeting certain segments of the population, while allowing others to go about their lives unhindered. The first suggests selectively isolating those that would most likely suffer severe adverse effects if infected – in particular the elderly. The second involves identifying and quarantining those who are likely to be infected through a contact tracing app that would centrally store users’ information. We suggest that both strategies showed promise in preventing the need for further lockdowns, albeit in a significantly more stringent form than anything that was implemented in Western countries. We then proceed to an ethical evaluation of these more stringent policies. We contend that selective isolation strategies face severe ethical problems due to its discriminatory nature, while the ethical issues with a more aggressive contact tracing regime can be mitigated. This analysis has implications for how to respond effectively and ethically to future pandemics, and perhaps contains lessons on how to successfully emerge from our current predicament.