The UK may need to reconsider a “herd immunity” strategy to defeat coronavirus, a senior adviser to the Prime Minister has warned.
Professor Graham Medley, of Imperial College London, claimed the country had “painted itself into a corner” as it battled the deadly bug with no clear exit plan.
The government’s chief pandemic modeller said the UK needed to face the trade-off between harming the young versus the old.
Describing the stark choices facing the government, he argued that long, indefinite periods of lockdown could cause more harm than the virus itself by leading to soaring unemployment, domestic violence, food poverty and mental illness.
Speaking to the Times, Professor Medley said: “We will have done three weeks of this lockdown so there’s a big decision coming up on April 13.
“In broad terms are we going to continue to harm children to protect vulnerable people, or not?
“The measures to control [the disease] cause harm. The principal one is economic, and I don’t mean to the economy generally, I mean to the incomes of people who rely on a continuous stream of money and their children.”
“If we carry on with lockdown it buys us more time, we can get more thought put into it, but it doesn’t resolve anything — it’s a placeholder,” he continued.
In the last fortnight, nearly a million people have applied for Universal Credit benefits.
At the same time, millions of other workers have been furloughed as businesses struggle to cope with the fall-out of social distancing measures.
The public health expert claimed that there was no way to relax lockdown rules, such as allowing people to return to work and schools to re-open, without a surge in infections.
Therefore, he is now urging the government to reconsider allowing people to catch the flu-like virus and build up resistance in the population, following a controversial strategy known as “herd immunity”.
The concept was widely debated last month as the UK escalated its response to Covid-19 from the “contain” to “delay” phase.
Police have powers they can exercise during the coronavirus lock down to stop members of the public making unnecessary journeys.
If members of the public do not comply officers may:
• instruct them to go home, leave an area, or disperse
• ensure parents are taking necessary steps to stop their children breaking these rules
• issue a fixed penalty notice of £60, which will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days
• issue a fixed penalty notice of £120 for second-time and subsequent breaches
The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, had revealed that the government was not looking to suppress the disease entirely, but to help create immunity while protecting the most vulnerable from it.
However, the strategy was described as “potentially very effective yet risky” by experts.
Professor Ian Donald, from the University of Liverpool, called the approach more refined than those being adopted by other countries, but more risky due to being based on certain assumptions.
This includes data around the rate of infection, and the health service’s capacity to manage severe cases.
The latest advice comes as Britain suffered its deadliest day since the pandemic emerged yet, with 684 people dying from coronavirus in 24 hours
The death toll now stands at 3,605 (April 4, 2020), with 38,168 people having tested positive for the disease, the Department of Health has confimed. Of these, 141 were from Wales.
It is hoped that the UK’s drastic lockdown measures – requiring people to stay at home unless shopping for food, attending medical appointments, taking exercise or carrying out essential work – will soon begin to flatten the curve of infections.
Research suggests that up to 70% of the population would need to become infected with coronavirus to achieve herd immunity.