Are preventive measures deadlier than the virus? | Sunday Observer

Are preventive measures deadlier than the virus?

25 October, 2020

Opinions are largely divided when it comes to which kind of preventive measures are suitable to prevent a further spread of Covid-19 while decision makers depend on medical expert opinions to implement directives which should be followed by the public.

Very recently a prominent group of medical experts launched an initiative focusing on the negative impacts of shutdowns and curfews to public health in general. The title of the initiative is ‘the Great Barrington Declaration’. A group of infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists raised grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the Covid-19 policies, and recommended an approach titled ‘Focused Protection’.

The experts claim that current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health.

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed. The normal timeline for releasing a vaccine to the public is between 8–12 years.

“The vulnerability to death from Covis-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, the pandemic is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza”, experts said.

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. It’s a known fact that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable. The goal should, therefore, be to minimise mortality and social harm until herd immunity settles in.

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 to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. Medical experts call this “Focused Protection”. Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimised. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals.

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open.

Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.On October 4, 2020, the declaration was authored and signed in Great Barrington, United States by over 40 doctors.

The writer is a social scientist and the Head of AGSEP Research