March 13, 2020
The British government is reportedly going to allow the coronavirus “to pass through the entire population” so that they “acquire herd immunity.”
The key phrase we all need to understand is “herd immunity” – which is what happens to a group of people or animals when they develop sufficient antibodies to be resistant to a disease.
The strategy of the British government in minimising the impact of Covid-19 is to allow the virus to pass through the entire population so that we acquire herd immunity, but at a much delayed speed so that those who suffer the most acute symptoms are able to receive the medical support they need, and such that the health service is not overwhelmed and crushed by the sheer number of cases it has to treat at any one time.
The government’s experts – the chief medical officer and the chief scientific advisor – have made two big judgements.
First, as the World Health Organisation on Wednesday in effect conceded, that there is no way now of preventing the virus sweeping across Africa, Asia and the Americas – which in practice means that it will be an ever-present threat to the UK, unless and until a mass vaccine is available for use.
Second, the kind of coercive measures employed by China in Wuhan and Hubei have simply locked the virus behind the closed doors of people’s homes.
And just as soon as the constraints on freedom of movement are lifted there, the monstrous virus will rear its hideous face again.
That’s another major assumption with no evidence yet to back it up.
President Xi went to Wuhan on Tuesday in a show of strength and is operating under the opposite assumption.
What are the consequences for the UK of these judgements, which the Prime Minister and Health Secretary are accepting?
We will know the detail later on Thursday, after the Cobra meeting of ministers and experts make the formal decision to move from the phase of containing the virus to delaying the inevitable epidemic.
But we already know that at the heart of their plans are increasing the proportion of the population able to be tested and also what’s known as “social distancing”.
In the first instance, this will mean encouraging anyone showing even the mild symptoms – such as a dry cough – to self-isolate at home.
But what it does not mean, at least yet, is school closures or the banning of mass events like football matches.
The problem with that is the evidence suggests children can spread the virus without experiencing any symptoms.
There are a few reasons why school closures are not regarded as sensible, not least that children themselves are the least at risk from the virus – although they may well be an important channel of infection-transmission to older people who are at risk.
However, the government’s main argument against closing schools is it would – at a stroke – massively deplete the manpower of hospitals and care homes, because vast numbers of medical staff would be forced to stay home to look after their children.
And at the heart of the UK’s challenge – as confirmed on Wednesday in the Budget with its extra £5 billion for the NHS, as a down payment on the needed extra beds and relevant kit – is how to make sure hospitals have the resources to treat the expected surge in those needing urgent attention.
For what it’s worth, ministers are looking with grim bemusement at the debate in football’s governing bodies about banning the public from stadia.
They fear this fuels alarmism and do not think playing matches behind closed doors is necessary at this stage.
There’s a very decent chance mitigation strategies will be developed over the next few months (i.e. masks, drugs and other treatments) and the virus will be hurt by warming temperatures and increased absolute humidity.
A lot of experts believe an aggressive strategy of mass testing, quarantines, restricted travel and public gatherings to contain the virus immediately is the best way to give hospitals time to prepare and supply chains time to recover.
You don’t want to have a repeat of the situation now in Italy where the government was claiming travel restrictions were “racist” and this is “just the flu.”
Meanwhile, the UK is allowing mass gatherings like the Cheltenham festival to take place with 60,000 people in close quarters.
— Janis Ward (@laurenleygold) March 10, 2020
This article was posted: Friday, March 13, 2020 at 6:37 am