Re­peated two-week lock­downs could stem virus: Sage sci­en­tist

The Ob­server, Great Bri­tain (United King­dom), 27 Septem­ber 2020,­­ti­cle/2816725523­84663

COVID-19 News - - News -

One of the gov­ern­ment’s sci­en­tific ad­vis­ers has said re­peated “mini lock­downs” could be ef­fec­tive as a tool to bring Covid-19 cases un­der con­trol.

The sug­ges­tion from Pro­fes­sor John Ed­munds, a mem­ber of the gov­ern­ment’s Sci­en­tific Ad­vi­sory Group for Emer­gen­cies (Sage), comes amid grow­ing ev­i­dence the virus’s preva­lence is grow­ing among older, more vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

A quar­ter of the coun­try is now liv­ing un­der tighter Covid-19 re­stric­tions, in­clud­ing bans on house­hold mix­ing, with Lon­don on the brink of fur­ther mea­sures. Scot­land has al­ready in­tro­duced tougher rules.

The gov­ern­ment has so far de­cided against a so-called “cir­cuit breaker” – ef­fec­tively a twoweek mini na­tional lockdown – that had been ad­vo­cated by some sci­en­tists.

How­ever, with warn­ings that a rise in daily deaths is on the way as the virus grows, Ed­munds, dean of the fac­ulty of epi­demi­ol­ogy and pop­u­la­tion health at the Lon­don School of Hy­giene and Trop­i­cal Medicine, said de­ploy­ing more than one cir­cuit breaker could be ef­fec­tive.

“A cir­cuit breaker, or mini-lockdown can be used to re­set the clock,” he told the Ob­server. “The idea would be to bring the in­ci­dence back to what it was a few weeks ear­lier. You re­place two weeks of ex­po­nen­tial growth with two weeks of a de­cline in cases. This can have a big ef­fect on the to­tal num­ber of cases, par­tic­u­larly if it is im­ple­mented shortly af­ter the epi­demic starts to grow.

“To max­imise the ef­fect you also need longer-term mea­sures to slow growth – per­haps along the lines of what Scot­land has done. It is, of course, pos­si­ble to do more than one cir­cuit breaker – per­haps one now and one around half term. This could help re­duce cases and deaths and – as the mea­sures are short-lived and can be planned for – po­ten­tially limit the im­pact on the econ­omy.”

David Hunter, a pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy and medicine at Ox­ford Univer­sity, said travel re­stric­tions should be con­sid­ered at half term “in or­der to

re­duce seed­ing of the virus in ar­eas where the preva­lence is low”.

The spread of the virus has al­most tripled among those in their 60s since the start of the month, of­fi­cial data an­a­lysed by Dun­can Robert­son, a pol­icy and strat­egy an­a­lyt­ics ex­pert at Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity, shows. There are 23 cases per 100,000 peo­ple in their 60s, up from eight per 100,000 at the end of Au­gust; and 22 cases per 100,000 peo­ple over 80 – up from nine cases at the end of Au­gust. Robert­son said: “It is vi­tally im­por­tant that in­fec­tions within older age groups are min­imised. With­out a func­tion­ing test-and-trace sys­tem, peo­ple are less able to be tested, and their con­tacts are less likely to be traced, which al­lows the epi­demic to spread through­out the pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing to vul­ner­a­ble groups.”

The gov­ern­ment has so far said the rein­tro­duc­tion of the na­tional shield­ing pro­gramme is not nec­es­sary. How­ever, ma­jor char­i­ties that of­fer help and services to vul­ner­a­ble groups, such as those with se­vere asthma and older peo­ple, said they had de­tected an in­crease in peo­ple self-iso­lat­ing at home. They said hun­dreds of thou­sands had not stopped shield­ing them­selves since the pan­demic be­gan, rais­ing se­ri­ous men­tal health con­cerns.

“Some peo­ple did choose to get out and about more over the sum­mer months,” said Ruthe Is­den, head of health and care in­flu­enc­ing at Age UK. “And, of course, with ev­ery­thing that’s in the news, that mood is chang­ing again.”

Sarah Mac­fadyen, head of pol­icy and ex­ter­nal af­fairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foun­da­tion, said plans were needed to avoid is­sues that arose last spring, when some peo­ple strug­gled to gain ac­cess to food – while oth­ers were given help who did not need it.

James Tay­lor, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of strat­egy, im­pact and so­cial change at the dis­abil­ity charity Scope, called for greater clar­ity in com­mu­ni­cat­ing with those most at risk.

“Some of the things we’ve been hear­ing over the last cou­ple of days are that many are quite con­cerned and con­fused about what they should and shouldn’t be do­ing and what rules ap­ply to them specif­i­cally,” he said.

There was an out­cry yes­ter­day as it emerged that the of­fi­cial NHS Covid19 app for Eng­land can­not process thou­sands of tests car­ried out at NHS hospi­tals or Pub­lic Health Eng­land labs. Crit­ics said the omis­sion un­der­mined the app’s abil­ity to tell peo­ple whether they had been in con­tact with some­one with the virus.

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