Over-70s and vulnerable people should remain in lockdown when the draconian social restrictions are lifted, scientists advising the Government have in
Over-70s and vulnerable people should remain in lockdown when the draconian social restrictions are lifted, scientists advising the Government have insisted.
The Edinburgh and London researchers have called for a ‘two tier’ action plan which would see the elderly and those with chronic conditions kept apart from society.
They say the approach, dubbed ‘segmentation and shielding’, is the only way to get the UK back to normal without overwhelming the NHS and causing a second wave.
Healthy Britons would be allowed back out, but stringent contact tracing, social distancing and strict handwashing rules would need to be in place.
Anyone with symptoms would need to quarantine along with their entire household for two weeks.
The study, which used modelling to predict the virus’ spread after lockdown, did not say how much longer elderly people would need to stay cooped up at home.
However, it was reported last night that the Government is planning to dismiss the report and allow over-70s the same freedoms as the rest of the UK.
Researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and London modelled what may happen to infection rates under various scenarios. It would include strengthening shielding of society’s most frail — including all over-70s — and giving them added protection while relaxing measures for everyone else
One of the lead authors of the report, Professor Mark Woolhouse, is a member of SAGE — Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies — set up by the government to provide expert advice during the coronavirus pandemic.
The researchers concluded that the best course of action would be the ‘two-tier’ approach, which would give young healthy adults and children greater freedoms while ensuring that the most vulnerable are protected.
Certain measures would stay in place, such as the use of the NHSX contact-tracing app, social isolation upon expressing symptoms of COVID-19, quarantine of entire households and social distancing.
However, it would allow society’s fittest to reclaim some of their lost freedoms.
The most vulnerable – the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions – would still need to avoid anyone potentially infected with the virus.
Dr Bram van Bunnik, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said: ‘Easing the measures taken during the lockdown is important as they currently have a tremendous effect on our society, but this should only be done in a way that is both safe for the people that are most vulnerable as well as for the health and safety of NHS staff.
‘Segmentation and shielding is a possible way of achieving this: measures could be eased for a large proportion of the population, however the vulnerable population likely still needs to be protected for a prolonged period.’
The team says the risk to non-vulnerable people released from lockdown could be managed via effective clinical care and public health measures as well as ensuring universal high standards of hygiene and hand washing.
The latest research suggests an approach dubbed ‘segmentation and shielding’ would be most beneficial for getting the nation back to a semblance of normality while ensuring protective measures are still in place for the coronavirus
Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Segmentation and shielding recognises that, although social distancing impacts on the whole of society, the public health burden of COVID-19 is concentrated in a subset of vulnerable people.
‘By targeting protection to those that need it most, the strategy helps to ensure that the health system is not overwhelmed by severe cases, while giving policy makers greater leeway to partially relax social distancing measures for the majority of the population.’
In the piece of research — which is a pre-print and is being sent fro publication later this week — all those aged 70 or above are classed as vulnerable and therefore in need of shielding.
However, experts say this may not be the best criteria for accurately determining the most at-risk groups.
Professor Sarah Harper, an expert in gerontology at the University of Oxford, said: ‘Using chronological age without taking into account individual’s health conditions will confine healthy active older individuals to their homes.
‘While there is a clear association between age and the efficiency of our immune systems, we do not have sufficient data to make an explicit judgement and the variability is likely to be considerable.
‘In addition, the impact of confinement for these healthy older adults in terms of isolation, reduced mental well-being, and reduced physical activities will have long term health impacts.
‘There is also a considerable possibility that many of these older individuals will ignore the advice.’
Baroness Ros Altmann, 64, said many healthy over-70s would risk going to prison rather than continue isolating if younger generations did not have to
Concerns about potential social unrest if the lockdown is lifted for some people and not other demographics have been widely echoed.
The government is keen to clarify rules for the elderly after confusion at the weekend over the official guidance.
Baroness Ros Altmann, 64, said many healthy over-70s would risk going to prison rather than continue isolating if younger generations did not have to.
The campaigner said using age-based criteria to lift restrictions would send a message that older people’s lives ‘don’t count in the same way as others’.
The government is currently reviewing its lockdown policy with Boris Johnson expected to unveil changes to current strategy on Sunday.
According to a report by The Telegraph, an anonymous minister said they would be ‘very surprised’ if there was any tightening of the lockdown for the over-70s.
The minister added: ‘The all over-70s grouping is going to morph. There is a big difference between the 1.5million ‘shielded’ people, known as extremely critically vulnerable, who have been sent a letter advising them to shield for 12 weeks, vulnerable people with pre-existing conditions of any age, and healthy over-70s.
‘This needs to be made clearer – you can’t just have a blanket over-70s group, that’s unsustainable.’