To-day, scientists from Edinburgh University, having re-worked the notorious Imperial College modelling of the pandemic, discover that the lock-down measures were a terrible mistake and will lead to more Covid-19 deaths than would have occurred if we had allowed ourselves to acquire herd immunity.
Yet when reservations are expressed about the Government’s Coronavirus strategy ministers respond by stating that there is no alternative other than ‘letting the virus rip’.
The growing chorus of scientists and clinicians are however, advocating just such an alternative strategy.
It is not fair for Government to refuse to engage and insist that there is no alternative. Plainly, there is, and we should evaluate it before we write it off as being less effective than the existing strategy which, after all, does not appear to be working well at all.
The Government restated its strategy this week with absolute clarity: to suppress the disease through local and national restrictions on liberty and the economy until such time as a vaccine is developed.
Here is the difficulty: first, there are areas of the country that have now been in restrictive local lock-down for many weeks and infection rates, far from decreasing as a result of the measures have, on the contrary, increased sharply -in some areas as much as tenfold.
Second, vaccines may take a very long time to develop, there is no guarantee that one will prove effective, or it may prove only partially effective and take a further prolonged period to be sufficiently available to have an impact. After all, We possess anti-flu vaccines but it still kills 20,000 of us annually ( and incidentally it is currently killing a lot more of us than Covid-19).
The Government’s strategy requires that lock-down restrictions with increasing severity, with all their disastrous economic, social and health consequences be repeatedly imposed and re-imposed with every local outbreak indefinitely until an effective vaccine developed.
The unease with this prospect of indefinite misery is growing. Very significantly family doctors are now demanding to be represented on the body of scientists advising the Government. They point out that currently the scientists are too focussed on the disease and the measures to combat it, without weighing up the damage that those measures are doing to the health and mental health of the nation and which the family doctors are seeing daily.
The alternative strategy can be summarised thus: Concentrate resources on isolating the infected, and on protecting people who are particularly vulnerable. The rest of us should be allowed to get back to normal social and economic life, judging and managing for ourselves the risk we are prepared to take, and through social interaction over time, acquire a measure of ‘herd immunity’.
This must include the NHS getting back to normal too, where Covid-19 measures have vastly reduced its capacity to treat other conditions.
The basis of this strategy is that we may have to live with Covid-19 for a long time, even forever, so we need to adapt to living normally with it; best we get on with it without wasting more time, as we it appears now that we wasted the summer, and consequently have made the coming winter worse.