As new curbs in UK loom, ex­perts de­mand re­think

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Ben Spencer Med­i­cal Correspond­ent

LIFE should be al­lowed to re­turn to nor­mal for all but the el­derly and vul­ner­a­ble, top sci­en­tists in­sisted yes­ter­day.

More than 4,000 doc­tors and med­i­cal ex­perts signed a global dec­la­ra­tion stat­ing ‘grave con­cerns’ about the re­sponse to coro­n­avirus.

They warned that curb­ing reg­u­lar ac­tiv­ity was fail­ing to con­trol the pan­demic yet do­ing ‘ir­repara­ble dam­age’ to health in other ways.

Led by top epi­demi­ol­o­gists at Ox­ford, har­vard and Stan­ford, the sci­en­tists called for a new tac­tic of ‘fo­cused preven­tion’.

The el­derly and vul­ner­a­ble would be pro­tected while the rest of so­ci­ety re­turned to nor­mal to build herd im­mu­nity. Dozens of Bri­tish aca­demics were among those to en­dorse the ap­proach last night.

The pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion re­veals a split in the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity about the best way to fight Covid.

And it comes amid fears swathes of the UK are about to be plunged back into lock­down-style restric­tions fol­low­ing a rise in cases.

An­other 14,542 were re­ported yes­ter­day, al­most 2,000 up in 24 hours and tre­ble the to­tal a fort­night ago. Daily hospi­tal ad­mis­sions rose by a quar­ter to 478 and

English hos­pi­tals now have 2,800 Covid pa­tients, com­pared with 17,000 at the peak of the epi­demic.

Fears of new restric­tions have been fu­elled by fig­ures sug­gest­ing the virus is resur­gent in north­ern cities, in­clud­ing New­cas­tle, Liver­pool, Sh­effield, Manch­ester and Nottingham.

The in­creases have caused dis­may in Down­ing Street and a White­hall source said tougher mea­sures could be im­posed in parts of the North be­fore the end of the week. Of­fi­cials have also re­fused to rule out fur­ther na­tional mea­sures.

As a string of Tory MPs yes­ter­day re­belled over the ‘rule of six’ reg­u­la­tions and Chan­cel­lor Rishi Su­nak warned against fur­ther na­tional lock­down mea­sures:

■ Uni­ver­si­ties be­gan can­celling faceto-face teach­ing en­tirely as they stepped up at­tempts to curb ris­ing in­fec­tion rates on cam­puses;

■ The lead­ers of four north­ern cities wrote to Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock to warn they were ‘ex­tremely con­cerned about the sharp in­crease’ in cases;

■ How­ever, they said they did not want dra­co­nian new mea­sures and urged him to hand pow­ers over restric­tions to re­gional lead­ers;

■ Fig­ures sug­gested the out­breaks in univer­sity cities were be­ing strongly driven by stu­dents.

■ Re­ports claimed Mr Su­nak was draw­ing up plans for Trea­sury sup­port for firms worst hit by new lo­cal lock­downs;

■ Ni­cola Stur­geon is likely to announce ‘ cir­cuit breaker’- style

‘Bal­ances risks and ben­e­fits’

restric­tions to­day de­spite deny­ing Scot­land was headed for an­other full lock­down;

■ The Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists warned of a men­tal health cri­sis fu­elled by the pan­demic;

■ In­dus­try chiefs warned that pubs, res­tau­rants and other hospi­tal­ity firms were pre­par­ing to axe more than half a mil­lion jobs;

■ Nearly one in five state sec­ondary schools in Eng­land were un­able to fully open their doors last week due to coro­n­avirus.

The new pan­demic ap­proach – called the ‘ Great Bar­ring­ton Dec­la­ra­tion’ af­ter the town in Mas­sachusetts where it was writ­ten – is the brain­child of three lead­ing sci­en­tists who have grown in­creas­ingly con­cerned about the im­pact of Covid restric­tions.

Sune­tra Gupta, an ex­pert in in­fec­tious disease mod­el­ling at Ox­ford Univer­sity, warned that the world has be­come ‘blink­ered’ and ‘my­opic’.

Pro­fes­sor Gupta wrote the doc­u­ment in the US over the week­end with Pro­fes­sor Martin Kull­dorff of Har­vard and Pro­fes­sor Jay Bhat­tacharya of Stan­ford.

They ad­vo­cate al­low­ing ‘herd im­mu­nity’ to build up among those who can best fight off the ef­fects of coro­n­avirus, while en­sur­ing the most at risk are shielded.

Their dec­la­ra­tion, posted on­line, had as of last night been signed by 2,300 med­i­cal doc­tors and 2,000 sci­en­tists work­ing in the field of medicine and pub­lic health. More than 36,000 mem­bers of the pub­lic added their names.

‘Cur­rent lock­down poli­cies are pro­duc­ing dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on short- and longterm pub­lic health,’ it warns.

‘The results (to name a few) in­clude lower child­hood vac­ci­na­tion rates, wors­en­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar disease out­comes, fewer cancer screen­ings and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing men­tal health – lead­ing to greater excess mor­tal­ity in years to come, with the work­ing class and younger mem­bers of so­ci­ety car­ry­ing the heav­i­est bur­den.

‘The most com­pas­sion­ate ap­proach that bal­ances the risks and ben­e­fits of reach­ing herd im­mu­nity, is to al­low those who are at min­i­mal risk of death to live their lives nor­mally to build up im­mu­nity.

‘Ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, such as sports, should be re­sumed. Young low- risk adults should work nor­mally, rather than from home.

‘Res­tau­rants and other bu­si­said: nesses should open. Arts, mu­sic, sport and other cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties should re­sume.’

Pro­fes­sor David Liver­more, a mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of East Anglia, who has signed the dec­la­ra­tion, ‘ The col­lat­eral dam­age that lock­down causes is start­ing to out­weigh the ben­e­fits.’

Boris John­son and Mr Han­cock re­main con­vinced that lim­it­ing so­cial in­ter­ac­tion is still the best pol­icy and in­sist they will not al­low Covid to ‘let rip’ through so­ci­ety.

But they are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to re­con­sider, given the dam­age to the econ­omy and health.

The Gov­ern­ment’s own mod­el­ling sug­gests 74,000 peo­ple will die from non-Covid causes as an in­di­rect re­sult of the lock­down im­posed in March.

Some sci­en­tists how­ever, last night dis­agreed with the dec­la­ra­tion.

Pro­fes­sor James Nai­smith of the Univer­sity of Ox­ford said he would not sign, adding: ‘We do not know yet how long im­mu­nity will last, so achiev­ing herd im­mu­nity may not be sim­ple.’

Pro­fes­sor Jeremy Ross­man of the Univer­sity of Kent said: ‘The dec­la­ra­tion fo­cuses only on the risk of death from Covid-19 but ig­nores the grow­ing aware­ness of long-Covid.

‘The pro­posed dec­la­ra­tion is both un­likely to suc­ceed and puts the long-term health of many at risk.’

‘Com­pas­sion­ate ap­proach’

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