THE list of European countries going into coronavirus lockdown is growing and the US has begun introducing strict controls on public life.
But the UK is yet to introduce restrictions seen elsewhere – despite seeing the biggest daily jump in deaths yesterday.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
Some experts have warned that Britain is turning its back on strategies that have successfully reduced deaths and cases in other countries.
Instead the government is attempting a staged response to delay the spread of Covid-19 and reduce the epidemic’s peak.
Last week, the Prime Minister said that only those seriously ill in hospital would be tested for coronavirus.
Everyone else with symptoms should self-isolate at home for seven days – and not call NHS 111.
Boris Johnson said that banning mass gatherings – as they have done in places like Italy and Spain – wouldn’t help to reduce the spread of the disease.
However, it seems that many sports and entertainment companies are beginning to cancel events on their own accord.
Starting today, Downing Street will give daily briefings on the outbreak to keep the public up to date on the fight against the disease.
It comes after No 10 was criticised for an apparent lack of transparency over its plans to stem coronavirus.
Last week, England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the Government’s decision not to introduce tougher measures could have the benefit of creating “herd immunity” across the population as people become infected.
He said the idea is to “reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely”.
Sir Patrick said that around two-thirds of the British population would need to get coronavirus for herd immunity to stave off the disease in the future.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has subsequently said herd immunity is not part of the government’s strategy.
Tap to see where COVID-19 is near you
He said: “That is a scientific concept, not a goal or a strategy. Our goal is to protect life from this virus, our strategy is to protect the most vulnerable and protect the NHS through contain, delay, research and mitigate.”
A former director at the World Health Organisation (WHO) questioned the government’s tactics and argued they looked like they were against the policy set down by the agency.
Anthony Costello, professor of international child health, said on Twitter: “Doesn’t this herd immunity strategy conflict with WHO policy?
“After the announcement of this being a pandemic, Dr Tedros, Director General WHO, said ‘The idea that countries should shift from containment to mitigation is wrong and dangerous’.”
‘Block second peak’
Prof Costello said the Government was arguing that allowing a proportion of the population to catch the virus and gain immunity “will block a second peak in several months’ time”.
But he tweeted a series of questions showing scepticism for the policy, including: “Will it impair efforts to restrict the immediate epidemic, and cause more infections and deaths in the near term? Evidence suggests people shed virus early, and those without symptoms may cause substantial spread…”
He also questioned whether “coronavirus causes strong herd immunity or is it like flu where new strains emerge each year needing repeat vaccines? We have much to learn about Co-V immune responses.”
He said there was also an argument to see what happened in China, where the epidemic there has been contained “after 7 weeks of intense national effort”.
Prof Costello added: “Without an all-out national mobilisation plan for social distancing, are the UK government behavioural and nudge strategies really evidence-based to flatten the peak? Or simply based on models?”
Vaccines are a safer way to develop herd immunity, without the risks associated with the disease itself
Prof Antony Costello
He suggested that “shouldn’t we go all-out to snuff this UK epidemic out, with national mobilisation at all levels, using all possible preventive measures (whether evidence is strong, uncertain or weak) and worry about herd immunity when we have more evidence?”
He continued: “Vaccines are a safer way to develop herd immunity, without the risks associated with the disease itself.
“Is it ethical to adopt a policy that threatens immediate casualties on the basis of an uncertain future benefit?”
Prof Costello told the Guardian he had personally written to the chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, asking for testing to continue in the community.
He said: “The key principles from WHO are intensive surveillance.
“You test the population like crazy, find out where the cases are, immediately quarantine them and do contact tracing and get them out of the community.”
This is how countries like South Korea, China, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan had brought their case numbers down.
Yet the UK government is no longer testing anyone outside of hospitals, he warned.
Prof Costello added: “For me and the WHO people I have spoken to, this is absolutely the wrong policy. It would mean it just let’s rip.”
In a separate tweet, Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, said: “Part of my job is speaking truth to power.
“And the UK govt is (in my view) getting it wrong.
“Other countries have shown speed is crucial. There is a middle path between complete shutdown & carrying on as normal.”
Jeremy Rossman, honorary senior lecturer in virology at the University of Kent, added: “A delay strategy when combined with surveillance and containment, as recommended by the WHO, could be very effective in combating the spread of COVID-19.
“Yet if we slow the spread of the virus but are relying on herd immunity to protect the most vulnerable people, we would still need 47 million people to be infected.”
However, Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was unclear how the UK policies will work compared to other European policies “but I suspect they will be similar”.
He added: “The Government plan assumes that herd immunity will eventually happen, and from my reading hopes that this occurs before the winter season when the disease might be expected to become more prevalent.
“However, I do worry that making plans that assume such a large proportion of the population will become infected (and hopefully recovered and immune) may not be the very best that we can do.
“Another strategy might be to try to contain longer and perhaps long enough for a therapy to emerge that might allow some kind of treatment.”
‘No acceptable solution’
But other experts say there may be no “acceptable solution” to mitigate and manage the coronavirus pandemic.
Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology and the director of the University College London (UCL) Genetics Institute, said: “After having spent considerable time thinking how to mitigate and manage this pandemic… I failed to identify the best course of action.
“I’m not sure there is such a thing as an acceptable solution to the problem we are facing.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is an extremely challenging problem and there are still many unknowns.
“There is no simple fix, and poorly thought-out interventions could make the situation even worse, massively so.”
Prof Balloux said it was most plausible that the Covid-19 would wane in the late spring and return in the winter, “which I expect could be even worse than what we’re facing now”, adding a similar pattern was seen in the pandemic a century ago.
However, he warned that it is not known how seasonal the transmission of the virus is or if Covid-19 infection causes long-lasting immunity.
“Predictions from any model are only as good as the data that parametrised it,” Prof Balloux said.
“How long immunity lasts for following Covid-19 infection is the biggest unknown. Comparison with other Coronaviridae suggests it may be relatively short-lived. If this were to be confirmed, it would add to the challenge of managing the pandemic.
The opposite argument that we should lock everyone away now is counterproductive, because how long do you lock them down for?
Dr Hilary Jones
“Short-lived immunisation would defeat both ‘flattening the curve’ and ‘herd immunity’ approaches.”
Meanwhile Good Morning Britain’s resident health expert Dr Hilary Jones said that total lockdown could be counterproductive.
He told hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid: “The opposite argument that we should lock everyone away now is counterproductive, because how long do you lock them down for?
“How long does it take for a pandemic to peter out?
“It’s early days – we need to see what happens in China – there could be a second wave because people are coming out again getting fed up with being enclosed and incarcerated.
“The virus is undoubtedly still out there infecting the population.”