EXIT STRATEGY: Letting young people choose to be infected and protecting the elderly is ‘best way out of lockdown’

Photo: People defy the lockdown restrictions in NYC yesterday.

Fauci and Birx failed strategy must be abandoned before the catastrophic consequences of the lockdowns are irreversible.

EXIT STRATEGY

Letting young people choose to be infected and protecting the elderly is ‘best way out of lockdown’

LETTING young people choose to be infected with coronavirus and protecting the elderly is the best way out of lockdown, scientists say. 

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have developed a “stratify-and shield” policy for combating Covid-19 in the UK – and they say it is time to consider the approach as an alternative to social distancing measures.

Researchers say allowing low-risk, young individuals to be exposed to infection would be one way out of lockdownetty

The strategy would involve imposing more intense measures on the elderly and high-risk individuals while allowing low-risk, young individuals to be exposed to infection until the bulk of the population has developed immunity.

The idea would be to protect against any second wave of coronavirus, once the epidemic has passed while relieving the strain on the NHS.

“It is time to give serious consideration to a stratify-and-shield policy that could bring the Covid-19 epidemic to an end in a matter of months while restoring economic activity, avoiding overload of critical care services, and limiting mortality,” say Paul McKeigue and Helen Colhoun from the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers say the epidemic will only pass if the population’s immunity reached a level where the reproduction number (number of secondary infection cases arising from one original case) dropped to below one – either as a result of natural immunity or immunisation.

Risk levels assigned

And as an effective vaccine is not expected to be available for at least one year, their “stratify-and shield” policy would be the next best option.

Their strategy would use medical records to assign risk levels to people to determine who should and shouldn’t be shielded.

The analysis found that the proportion of the population that would be shielded under the policy would be no more than 15 per cent.

Meanwhile, the other 85 per cent would voluntarily expose themselves to the virus.

This policy has the potential to save lives, restore economic activity and end the epidemic long before a vaccine is available

University of Edinburgh researchers

These people would then be able to resume something closer to normal life, once sufficient numbers were immune and the Government allowed it.

“A stratify-and-shield policy using a classifier based on medical records has the potential to save lives, restore economic activity and end the epidemic long before a vaccine is expected to be available,” the researchers write.

“This policy option should not be dismissed but seriously evaluated as an alternative to adaptive social distancing.”

Despite this, the researchers say there are areas of uncertainty including the prevalence of immunity, the degree to which infection results in immunity, the fatality ratio, and how a classifier based on medical history performs.

“Any shielding strategy involves issues of ethics and equity in that those in the unshielded group are asked to accept a low risk so that not just they, but those shielded from infection, can emerge from isolation sooner,” write McKeigue and Colhoun.

Their paper, published in medRxiv, is a new idea and has not been published or extensively peer reviewed.

And experts say scientists still do not know how safe this theory would be.

Dr Daniel Atkinson, clinical lead at Treated.com, told The Sun Online: “Because the voluntary exposure theory is still being explored, we still don’t know how safe or effective it would be overall, in helping to develop a ‘herd immunity’.

We still don’t know how safe or effective it would be overall

Dr Daniel AtkinsonClinical Lead Treated.com

“This strain of coronavirus is new to us, so we’re learning more about it all the time, and we still don’t know enough about the dynamics of immunity yet to know how safe the practice would be.

“One theory is that people who develop more severe disease produce more antibodies, which might be thought to protect them from reinfection for longer; but that people who have milder disease produce antibodies in lower numbers, which might be thought to protect them against reinfection for less time.

“So for now, it’s definitely best that people stick to social distancing and stay at home guidelines set out by the government.

“If such an approach was employed, it would presumably not be suggested to people who are shielding due to an underlying condition that puts them at increased risk of serious disease (or anyone who these people share a household with).”

Risk of ‘social unrest’

The University of Edinburgh’s “stratify-and shield” policy comes after Dr Chris Hope, from Cambridge University, similarly suggested people should opt to be infected with Covid-19 and stay at home until they are no longer infectious, instead of abiding by social distancing measures.

Despite this, people at high risk or those with pre-existing conditions could not be offered the chance to take part in voluntary exposure.

Last week, a former minister warned that keeping over 70s in lockdown could lead to “social unrest” as many would be “willing to risk jail” to break out.

Baroness Ros Altmann said using age-based criteria to lift lockdown restrictions would be “age discrimination”.

The former pensions minister said it would send a message that older people’s lives “don’t count in the same way as others”.

Comedian Sir Michael Palin, 76, also agreed in a separate interview that any age restrictions would be “very difficult and very wrong and very unfair”.

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