SOURCE: The Gurdian
Your house is on fire, and the people whom you have trusted with your care are not trying to put it out. Even though they knew it was coming, and could see what happened to the neighbours as they were overwhelmed with terrifying speed, the UK government has inexplicably chosen to encourage the flames, in the misguided notion that somehow they will be able to control them.
When I first heard about this, I could not believe it. I research and teach the evolution and epidemiology of infectious disease at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. My colleagues here in the US, even as they are reeling from the stumbling response of the Donald Trump administration to the crisis, assumed that reports of the UK policy were satire – an example of the wry humour for which the country is famed. But they are all too real.
Let me take the arguments on their merits. The stated aim has been to achieve “herd immunity” in order to manage the outbreak and prevent a catastrophic “second wave” next winter – even if Matt Hancock has tried to put that particular genie back in the bottle this weekend. A large proportion of the population is at lower risk of developing severe disease: roughly speaking anyone up to the age of 40. So the reasoning goes that even though in a perfect world we’d not want anyone to take the risk of infection, generating immunity in younger people is a way of protecting the population as a whole.
We talk about vaccines generating herd immunity, so why is this different? Because this is not a vaccine. This is an actual pandemic that will make a very large number of people sick, and some of them will die. Even though the mortality rate is likely quite low, a small fraction of a very large number is still a large number. And the mortality rate will climb when the NHS is overwhelmed. This would be expected to happen, even if we make the generous assumption that the government were entirely successful in restricting the virus to the low-risk population, at the peak of the outbreak the numbers requiring critical care would be greater than the number of beds available. This is made worse by the fact that people who are badly ill tend to remain so for a long time, which increases the burden.