A two-week breaker in December could save thousands of lives in the short term and give the UK the ability to control the Covid-19 epidemic.
Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modeling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage), said it may be too late to implement a two-week breaker over the October school halftime, but December could be an option be.
He and Matt Keeling, who advises the government and is a professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, told PA news agency that a brief, sharp lockdown would allow Test and Trace to improve and ensure NHS hospitals aren’t overwhelmed become coronavirus patients.
In a personal capacity, Prof. Medley said there was “mixed evidence” that the current three tier system would work, including a “danger” that Tier 3 locations may not return to Tier 2 if action is not taken strong enough .
“The alternative is to say that at some point we have to take tough action. Why don’t we do this before we absolutely have to?” He said.
“Why don’t we do this two weeks or three weeks before we absolutely have to, and that means we avoid an emergency break?”
“So we’re taking a break as a precaution to avoid an emergency break.
“This has two advantages: Firstly, it reduces the burden on the NHS.
“And the other may be… a known interruption, a known lock, is better than an unknown lock.
“My understanding is that for mental health – and for business – it’s a lot better knowing it’s going to be two weeks and you know when it’s going to start.”
He said each breaker should ideally be tuned for the school holidays to minimize disruption to education.
“Well, halfway through or maybe over Christmas,” he said.
“You could possibly even add a week to the Christmas break and possibly take a three week break, but the whole point is to reduce the prevalence before you actually have to.
“The reason the lockdown (in March) worked is the separation of households.
“And that’s essentially what we have to do to make sure the broadcast doesn’t go from household to household and that two weeks is the minimum time.”
Prof. Medley said a breaker could prevent thousands of deaths by January, but it was right to say that it did not necessarily translate into long-term saved lives.
The modeling paper written by Prof. Medley and colleagues states that the number of deaths could potentially decrease from about 19,900 to 12,100 for the remainder of the year. Hospital admissions were reduced from 132,400 to 66,500.
A limited lockdown with schools and shops open but restaurants closed could bring the death toll to around 15,600, they said.
However, the numbers come with a number of caveats – including the rate at which the epidemic is growing – and the paper has yet to be peer-reviewed.
Prof. Medley said, “People have said this kicks the can down the street, and it is – you are not saving a life.
“We look in the newspaper between October and the end of the year, and you delay the next wave until after January. Yes, so it looks like you will prevent (Covid) deaths during this period, but it just means that you (them) delayed. “
However, Prof. Medley said that lives would undoubtedly be saved by not overloading the NHS and allowing the healthcare system to resume other routine treatments such as cancer treatments.
He agreed that multiple short-circuit breaks until a vaccine or better treatments arrive could also save lives in the long run.
“If you know a vaccine is coming and the treatments are getting better, which they probably are, then it will save lives,” he said.
He said regular breakers implemented regardless of case and hospital numbers warn people and could have long-term benefits.
About the need for a soon, he said, “We’re a little late now for halftime in the sense that I don’t know if that’s enough time for companies and people to adjust.”
“But if you said the first two weeks of December then … employees can go on vacation, companies can get around that, and maybe people can say,” Right, I’ll be staying with my sister for two weeks. “
“You won’t be able to walk once you get there, but you could actually make it, I think, quite livable.”
In a personal capacity, Prof. Keeling told PA that the figures contained in the research report were actually a worst-case scenario.
He said the numbers were for “illustrative purposes” and examined what would happen if the virus ran without intervention.
Test and trace could be one of the things that could boot up during a breaker when the number of coronavirus cases drops.
“Right now we’re very close to capacity, which test and trace can do when there’s more capacity in the system, more potential to push down, and it’s easier to investigate small breakouts that occur,” he said.
“When we have too many cases, PHE (Public Health England) will be overwhelmed by the number of outbreaks.
“So when you are on a low level, you have an opportunity to further shape every little breakout you see.”
Prof. Keeling said he was “concerned about the current levels” adding that a breaker may be needed “just to shut everything down, ventilate us, and allow us to really control the breakouts while they are” recurring “.
He said public support was needed, adding that “controls are only as good as they actually happen in the real world”.
He added, “We may not want to move on to some sort of April lockdown behavior, but we may want to withhold certain measures, and if we do, we could lower cases enough that we can then start planning better and more comprehensive controls. “
However, he said the “harder you can go in and control it for two weeks, the better the effect, the greater the reduction you can get.”
In a briefing to reporters later, Prof. Medley said of a breaker, “It’s important to sum it up with schools closing and we have three major holidays, three halves, and they are possible options.
“The key is to do it when you don’t have to.”
Said a breaker could help the UK control the “national narrative” surrounding the pandemic, he said, “Will we go from epidemic to epidemic, from forced lockdown to forced lockdown?
“Or will we say what we did was tight lockdown briefly to keep prevalence down, and that’s how we did it?”
However, he suggested that it might already be too late to introduce planned circuit breakers based on current transmission levels.
Prof. Keeling said that regular circuit breaker shutdowns may be necessary as we learn to live with Covid-19, adding, “However, if we can plan them sufficiently in advance, we can hopefully mitigate the worst effects they have will have. “