A new study – the first of its kind – shows that chasing an infection target of below 1 will force Britons into long term social distancing and more lockdowns.
It shows that without a vaccine, it would take until December 2024 to see off the virus using social distancing.
But the economic cost of these measures would be so grave it would kill more people than WWII, Philip Thomas, a Professor of Risk Management at the University of Bristol has found.
The study estimated that 150,000 people will die from Covid-19 over five years under intermittent lockdown or semi-lockdown conditions that would be necessary to keep infection rates at the government goal close to below
The analysis, shortly to be published in the Scientific Journal Nanotechnology Perceptions, was based on projected death rates linked to the virus, together with the economic impact of social distancing or lockdown and that of previous recessions. It shows “calamitous” long term consequences leading to large scale loss of life.
It reveals a move out of lockdown slow enough to avoid a strain on the NHS due to a surge in cases is likely to cause a drop of 23.5 percent to the economy in 2020 and still further in 2021. The study also reveals the economy would not return to pre-lockdown levels until the end of 2024. This would cause a dramatic cost to health and an associated loss of an extra 675,000 lives due to poor healthcare and impoverishment, as well as a relaxation of safety regulations.
This is higher than the UK’s loss of life over the six years of the Second World War which equated to approximately 525,000 civilian and military personnel, dwarfing the number of lives saved by lockdown.
Professor Thomas said: “It is not enough to look at the epidemiology, the spread of Covid-19, in isolation. You need to look just as much as the effect on the economy because a nation’s economy and its health are so strongly linked that at some point they become inseparable. Poverty kills just as surely as the coronavirus. The only reason we have good health and live a long time in the UK is because we are one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The policy of coming out of lockdown gradually, over five years – which will be necessary if we are to keep the infection rate close to or below 1 – will reduce the toll on life from the coronavirus but incur a far greater loss of life through the impoverishment of the nation. The net loss of life is likely to be of the order of 675,000 lives.
“The initial pandemic response to lockdown as a device for gaining time to build defences and make sure our health service was not overwhelmed was a reasonable response. But our society cannot remain under siege forever and we need to find a way of returning towards normality.
“I think we can more or less justify a lockdown of two months based on the ill effects to the economy but three months is too long. We now have to realise if we do go so slowly and continue with the aim to keep the infection rate close to or below one then the number of deaths from the prolonged lockdown will be far worse and we will be condemning people to significant impoverishment, permanent loss of wealth and more deaths than lives saved and we have to ask ourselves: “What are we doing?”
He added: “We are faced with a bad situation where there are no easy wins. We cannot just gamble on waiting for a vaccine as we cannot rely on this. This is not just a question of saving people’s money versus saving people’s lives. It is comparing life versus life.”
He also pointed out that the case against coming out of the lockdown slowly was even stronger if, as various studies have pointed out, the number of people who have already had infections is far higher than current estimates which would mean the virus is less lethal than previously thought.
Professor Thomas said he supported the less draconian social distancing measures followed by Sweden which he said were “broadly sensible.”
He added: “Lockdown doesn’t do much and does not get rid of the virus – it only gives you time.”
His comments follow criticism of the UK lockdown system by former chief scientist at the European Centre for Disease Control, Professor Johan Giesecke. Professor Giesecke, who has been advising the Swedish Agency for Public Health said in a recent article in The Lancet: “Everyone will be exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus and most people will become infected. COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in all countries, but we do not see it – it almost always spreads from younger people with no or weak symptoms to other people who will also have mild symptoms. This is the real pandemic, but it goes on beneath the surface, and is probably at its peak now in many European countries. There is very little we can do to prevent this spread: a lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear. I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country in 1 year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken.”
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