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Tech & Science Scientists say UK virus strategy 'risks lives'

06:05  16 march  2020
06:05  16 march  2020 Source:   bbc.com

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Hundreds of scientists have written to the government urging them to introduce tougher measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19. In an open letter, a group of 229 scientists from UK universities say the government's current approach will put the NHS under additional stress and " risk many more lives

In an open letter, a group of 229 scientists from UK universities say the government's current approach will put the NHS under additional stress and " risk many more lives than necessary". The signatories also criticised comments made by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific

a man wearing a suit and tie: Architects of the UK's nuanced approach: Sir Patrick Vallance (left) and Prof Chris Whitty (right) © Reuters Architects of the UK's nuanced approach: Sir Patrick Vallance (left) and Prof Chris Whitty (right)

Hundreds of scientists have written to the government urging them to introduce tougher measures to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

In an open letter, a group of 229 scientists from UK universities say the government's current approach will put the NHS under additional stress and "risk many more lives than necessary".

The signatories also criticised comments made by Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, about managing the spread of the infection to make the population immune.

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UK doctor on recovering from 'grim' coronavirus Jump to media player Doctor Clare Gerada believes she contracted the virus in New York but says she is now on the mend. READ MORE: Scientists say UK virus strategy is ' risking lives '.

Scientists say UK virus strategy ' risks lives '. It will not, Mr Philippe said , affect essential businesses which he listed as food shops, chemists, banks, tobacco shops and petrol stations.

The scientists also questioned the government's view that people will become fed up with restrictions if they were imposed too soon.

The letter was published on the day it was announced 10 more people in the UK have died after testing positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of deaths to 21.

Sir Patrick and the UK's chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, say they will soon publish the computer models on which their strategy is based.

The UK's approach to coping with the coronavirus pandemic has been in stark contrast to other countries. The whole of Italy has been on lockdown since Tuesday, while Poland is set to close its borders for two weeks.

On Saturday the French government ordered the closure of all non-essential public locations from midnight (23:00 GMT Saturday).

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Coronavirus: Scientists say UK government strategy is ' risking lives '. The UK 's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said he thinks coronavirus is likely to become an "annual virus " that we can't stop as it returns every year.

And Spain is poised to declare a 15-day national lockdown on Monday to battle the virus.

Measures 'insufficient'

In the open letter the group of scientists argue that stronger "social distancing measures" would "dramatically" slow the rate of growth of the disease in the UK, and would spare "thousands of lives".

The group said the current measures are "insufficient" and "additional and more restrictive measures should be taken immediately", as is happening in other countries.

a close up of text on a white background © BBC

On Friday, Sir Patrick suggested managing the spread of the disease so that the population gains some immunity to the disease was a part of the government strategy.

This idea, known as "herd immunity", means at-risk individuals are protected from infection because they are surrounded by people who are resistant to the disease.

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  Scientists say UK virus strategy 'risks lives' © BBC

Rough estimates indicate that herd immunity to Covid-19 would be reached when approximately 60% of the population has had the disease.

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Coronavirus: Scientists say UK virus strategy is ' risking lives '. Doubts have been cast against the UK 's strategy for tackling coronavirus, as the World Health Organisation questions the "herd immunity" plan.

Prof Richardson said the university's Medical Science Division had now cancelled all clinical teaching until further notice "to release clinical teachers to the wards". 14 March 2020. Scientists say UK virus strategy ' risks lives '.

But in the open letter, the scientists said: "Going for 'herd immunity' at this point does not seem a viable option."

'Laissez-faire attitude'

The major downside of herd immunity, according to Birmingham University's Prof Willem van Schaik, is that this will mean that in the UK alone at least 36 million people will need to be infected and recover.

"It is almost impossible to predict what that will mean in terms of human costs, but we are conservatively looking at tens of thousands of deaths, and possibly at hundreds of thousands of deaths," he said.

"The only way to make this work would be to spread out these millions of cases over a relatively long period of time so that the NHS does not get overwhelmed."

Prof van Schaik noted that the UK is the only country in Europe that is following what he described as its "laissez-faire attitude to the virus".

  Scientists say UK virus strategy 'risks lives' © BBC

In a separate letter to the government, more than 200 behavioural scientists have questioned the government's argument that starting tougher measures too soon would lead to people not sticking to them just at the point that the epidemic is at its height.

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Dr Morgan said he was "pretty surprised, humbled and pleased" by the response and said he had written the letter as "a human being, a dad, a son with elderly family and family with long-term health conditions." 14 March 2020. Some scientists say UK virus strategy ' risks lives '.

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"While we fully support an evidence-based approach to policy that draws on behavioural science, we are not convinced that enough is known about 'behavioural fatigue' or to what extent these insights apply to the current exceptional circumstances," the letter said.

"Such evidence is necessary if we are to base a high-risk public health strategy on it."

"In fact, it seems likely that even those essential behaviour changes that are presently required (e.g., handwashing) will receive far greater uptake the more urgent the situation is perceived to be. Carrying on as normal for as long as possible undercuts that urgency," it added.

The scientists said "radical behaviour change" could have a "much better" effect and could "save very large numbers of lives".

"Experience in China and South Korea is sufficiently encouraging to suggest that this possibility should at least be attempted," it added.

The second letter called on the government to reconsider its stance on "behavioural fatigue" and to share the evidence on which it based this stance.

At Microsoft News Australia we've partnered with the giving platform Benevity to raise funds for UNICEF: Donate now and help health workers in the battle against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Coronavirus Health Information Line call 1800 020 080 if you are seeking information on novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The line operates Monday–Friday from 8am to 8pm, Saturdays from 8am to 5pm, and Sundays from 9am to 5pm.

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