Now 12,000 scientists and medics have signed anti-lockdown petition that urges officials to let Covid-19 spread among young and healthy people
- The Great Barrington Declaration has gathered steam since Monday publication
- Experts have poured scorn on the paper branded a ‘manifesto for selfishness’
- Boris Johnson’s spokesman said petition was based on ‘unproven assumptions’
- He said there was no proof it would be possible to protect specific groups only
Now more than 12,000 scientists and medics have signed a petition calling on the Government to abandon damaging lockdown restrictions – as it attracts an ever-growing list of supporters.
The Great Barrington Declaration was published this week calling for young people to be allowed to return to life as normal while the elderly and most vulnerable are given ‘focused protection’.
The open letter, written by experts at Oxford, Harvard and Stanford universities has since been signed by more than 12,000 scientists and medical workers, as well as 110,000 members of the public.
But Number 10 insisted it would not throw restrictions overboard and said calls for the UK to aim for herd immunity against Covid-19 would not be heeded by policy-makers.
They argued there is no proof it would be possible to protect only vulnerable people, nor that herd immunity would ever develop.
Top scientists have also poured scorn on the plan, saying it is based on unproven science and thin on important details. One Oxford University professor today branded the declaration ‘a libertarian agenda packaged as science’ and ‘a manifesto for selfishness’.
The Great Barrington Declaration has been signed by more than 8,000 scientists and medics and 72,000 members of the public since it was published on Monday
The concept of herd immunity emerged briefly as a possible plan for Government action before March’s lockdown but was quickly shot down by critics.
Allowing the virus to spread enough for most people to get immunity and prevent a second outbreak – if it is even possible – would have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, scientists warned at the time.
WHO CREATED THE GREAT BARRINGTON DECLARATION?
The declaration was written by Dr Martin Kulldorff (Harvard University), Dr Sunetra Gupta (Oxford) and Dr Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford).
It has since been signed by 1,500 scientists, 1,700 medical workers and 26,000 members of the public.
The co-signers, who added their names to the report before it was published, were:
- Professor Sucharit Bhakdi (University of Mainz)
- Dr Rajiv Bhatia (Physician, USA)
- Professor Stephen Bremner (University of Sussex)
- Professor Anthony J Brookes (University of Leicester)
- Dr Helen Colhoun (University of Edinburgh)
- Professor Angus Dalgleish (St. George’s, University of London)
- Dr Sylvia Fogel (Harvard)
- Dr Eitan Friedman (Tel Aviv University)
- Dr Uri Gavish (Biomedical consultant)
- Professor Motti Gerlic (Tel Aviv University)
- Dr Gabriela Gomes (University of Strathclyde)
- Professor Mike Hulme (University of Cambridge)
- Dr Michael Jackson (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)
- Dr David Katz (Yale University)
- Dr Andrius Kavaliunas (Karolinska Institute)
- Dr Laura Lazzeroni (Stanford)
- Dr Michael Levitt (Stanford)
- Professor David Livermore (University of East Anglia)
- Dr Jonas Ludvigsson (Örebro University Hospital, Sweden)
- Dr Paul McKeigue (University of Edinburgh)
- Dr Cody Meissner (Tufts University)
- Professor Ariel Munitz (Tel Aviv University)
- Professor Yaz Gulnur Muradoglu (Queen Mary University of London)
- Professor Partha P. Majumder (Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata)
- Professor Udi Qimron (Tel Aviv University)
- Professor Matthew Ratcliffe (University of York)
- Dr Mario Recker (University of Exeter)
- Dr Eyal Shahar (University of Arizona)
- Professor Karol Sikora (Rutherford Health)
- Dr Rodney Sturdivant (Baylor University)
- Dr Simon Thornley (University of Auckland)
- Professor Ellen Townsend (University of Nottingham)
- Professor Lisa White (Oxford University)
- Professor Simon Wood (University of Edinburgh)
Now, the Barrington Declaration calls for only people at most risk of dying to be protected while the rest of society returns to life as normal.
But in a briefing with journalists this afternoon the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘We have considered the full range of scientific opinion throughout the course of this pandemic and we will continue to do so,’ the Independent reported.
‘But what I would also say is that it is not possible to rely on an unproven assumption that it is possible for people who are at lower risk, should they contract the virus, to avoid subsequently transmitting it to those who are at a higher risk and would face a higher risks of ending up in hospital, or worse in an intensive care unit.’
The declaration’s concept of ‘focused protection’ suggests looking after the vulnerable by using care home staff who are already immune, for example, by delivering groceries to elderly people so they don’t have to go shopping, or by families meeting outdoors instead of inside.
‘Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,’ the petition said.
Better hygiene such as hand-washing and self-isolation for people who are ill should carry on for everyone, it said, but social distancing could be done away with.
As the virus spread through people at a low risk of dying, the population would gradually build immunity which would slow down the spread of Covid-19 in the future, they claimed – known as herd immunity.
But researchers have hit out at the plan, saying it is ‘not evidence-based’.
Oxford University medical professor Dr Trisha Greenhalgh said on Sky News today: ‘I don’t think it’s desirable, I don’t think it’s achievable and I don’t think it’s evidence-based.
‘I think the Barrington Declaration seems to be a manifesto for selfishness and, I quote directly from it, those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal.
‘I think this is a libertarian agenda packaged as science because it completely ignores the role of the so-called not vulnerable in passing the virus onto the rest of us.’
She added ‘nobody has ever done locking people away as an effective measure to achieve control of the virus – there isn’t a single country where it’s happened’.
The petition, which appears to be aimed at both the US and the UK, has been set up in a bid to try and prevent the drastic lockdown measures that were used in March from returning.
Many of the actions it calls for are already happening in much of the UK, although altered by social distancing.
‘Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching,’ it said. ‘Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed.
‘Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open.
‘Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.’
The herd immunity focus of the declaration has irked many researchers. Scientists still cannot prove whether people develop any immunity to Covid-19 after catching it the first time.
If it turns out that people regularly get the illness twice or more it may mean that turn the concept of herd immunity on its head.
There have been sporadic reports from around the world of reinfection, but the circumstances that allow it to happen are unclear.
For many of the people who are alleged to have caught it twice, scientists suspect their original illness never cleared up or their test results were wrong somewhere along the line.
Dr Rupert Beale, an infection biologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said: ‘This declaration prioritises just one aspect of a sensible strategy – protecting the vulnerable – and suggests we can safely build up “herd immunity” in the rest of the population. This is wishful thinking.
‘It is not possible to fully identify vulnerable individuals, and it is not possible to fully isolate them.
‘Furthermore, we know that immunity to coronaviruses wanes over time, and re-infection is possible – so lasting protection of vulnerable individuals by establishing “herd immunity” is very unlikely to be achieved in the absence of a vaccine.’
And University of Southampton public health expert, Dr Richard Head, added: ‘The Barrington Declaration is based upon a false premise – that governments and the scientific community wish for extensive lockdowns to continue until a vaccine is available.
‘Lockdowns are only ever used when transmission is high, and now that we have some knowledge about how best to handle new outbreaks, most national and subnational interventions are much “lighter” than the full suppressions we have seen for example in the UK across the spring of 2020.
‘Those behind the Barrington Declaration are advocates of herd immunity within a population. They state that “those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal”, with the idea being that somehow the vulnerable of society will be protected from ensuing transmission of a dangerous virus.
‘It is a very bad idea. We saw that even with intensive lockdowns in place, there was a huge excess death toll, with the elderly bearing the brunt of that, and 20-30 per cent of the UK population would be classed as vulnerable to a severe Covid-19 infection.’
The Great Barrington Declaration
‘As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing Covid-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.
‘Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health.
‘The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice.
‘Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.
‘Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that vulnerability to death from Covid-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, Covid-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.
‘As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.
‘The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.
‘Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to Covid-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals.
‘Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home.
‘Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.’
View the full petition on The Great Barrington Declaration website.
Coronavirus lockdowns ‘may kill MORE than herd immunity strategy does’: Strict restrictions and school closures could increase deaths as Covid bounces back, major study finds
By Eleanor Hayward, Daniel Martin and Jason Groves for the Daily Mail
Ministers were last night under intense pressure to rethink after experts cast fresh doubt over Covid restrictions.
Research released on Wednesday shows that strict lockdowns – particularly those curbing the activities of the young – are unlikely to cut deaths in the long run and may even increase them.
The Edinburgh University study examined various lockdown-style scenarios and found that while they might protect hospitals, they could also prolong the pandemic and prevent the build-up of herd immunity.
The scientists concluded that coronavirus required a different strategy from a flu epidemic – and the focus should be on shielding the elderly and vulnerable.
Lead author Professor Graeme Ackland, from Edinburgh University, said: ‘Unless a vaccine magically appears and is rolled out across the entire population in the next six months, then shutting down society is unlikely to reduce overall deaths.’
The Edinburgh University study examined various lockdown-style scenarios and found that while lockdown might protect hospitals, they could also prolong the pandemic and prevent the build-up of herd immunity. Pictured: The green and purple lines represent the number of deaths that could occur during a second wave, while the black line suggests deaths would have rocketed during the first wave but stayed low throughout the rest of the year if the country didn’t go into lockdown
But the strategy would have put more strain on NHS ICU wards than lockdown did. Pictured: Purple shows how ICU demand per 100,000 would have rocketed if there were no preventative strategies in place. The other lines represent the strain on ICU if other measures were in place, including place closures, case isolation, household quarantine, and social distancing of over 70s
How cases and deaths would look if the UK only isolated entire households of Covid-19-positive people and made over-70s lockdown. Graphs on the left show how younger people would have picked up the virus much more easily and built up some herd immunity. It would also cause less deaths, shown right, according to the researchers
Ministers were last night under intense pressure to rethink after experts cast fresh doubt over Covid restrictions. Pictured: Boris Johnson
Research released on Wednesday shows that strict lockdowns – particularly those curbing the activities of the young – are unlikely to cut deaths in the long run and may even increase them. Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (left) and Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty (right) during a daily briefing in June
The computer simulation expert added: ‘Lockdowns essentially just postpone these deaths and prevent immunity building up… in some cases resulting in more deaths long term.
‘The way out of any epidemic is herd immunity, which is when enough people in the population are infected that the virus can’t spread.
‘We need to focus on protecting older people who are going to be affected by coronavirus, not people who aren’t.’
The study also found that shutting schools ‘leads to more overall deaths from Covid-19’ than allowing them to remain open.
This is because it prevents herd immunity building up among the healthy and young, who face only a tiny risk of dying from the disease.
The virus would bounce back as soon as measures involving school closures are lifted, infecting more vulnerable populations and resulting in ‘more deaths, but later’.
The study, which was part-funded by an arm of government, came as a growing number of leading scientists signed a declaration calling for life to be allowed to return to normal for all but the elderly and vulnerable.
By last night more than 9,000 doctors and medical experts had endorsed the ‘Great Barrington Declaration’ that backs herd immunity.
A separate study on Wednesday found that 86 per cent of corona victims do not show three main symptoms when they test positive.
And there were growing questions over the effectiveness of lockdown-style restrictions as figures showed that new rules have failed to curb coronavirus in almost all the local areas that have been living with them for two months.
Nicola Sturgeon announced sweeping restrictions on Wednesday, with pubs and restaurants in Glasgow, Edinburgh and the central belt shut for 16 days from tomorrow night.
As Boris Johnson agonised over similar measures to contain a surge in cases across northern England:
- Ministers were urged to water down the 10pm hospitality curfew as Sir Keir Starmer indicated Labour could side with Tory rebels on the issue;
- Holidaymakers could be forced to self-isolate before they fly home under plans to shorten 14-day quarantine;
- Shortages of vital diagnostic materials threatened to further derail the target of 500,000 coronavirus tests a day;
- A leading economic think-tank pleaded with the Chancellor not to raise taxes;
- The NHS said sufferers of ‘long Covid’ would be offered specialist help at rehabilitation clinics;
- MPs launched an inquiry into the Government’s response to the pandemic;
- Police and local councils will receive £60million to step up enforcement of Covid restrictions such as the curfew;
- The largest trial of the Oxford vaccine was in danger of being delayed;
- A study suggested vitamin D could help to protect against coronavirus;
- A further 14,162 cases were reported on Wednesday with 70 deaths;
- Entrepreneur Sir James Dyson demanded more measures from Rishi Sunak to boost the economy and get workers back to the office.
The Edinburgh University study – released on Wednesday – was published in the British Medical Journal, co-ordinated by the Royal Society and funded by UK Research and Innovation, an arm of the Government.
Its authors said their findings support calls for older age groups to be protected while the rest of society returns to normal to build up immunity.
The researchers said 97 per cent of Covid-19 deaths occur in over-65s, compared with just 5 per cent during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic.
They concluded that mitigating the pandemic therefore ‘requires a different strategy from an influenza epidemic, with more focus on shielding elderly and vulnerable people’.
The study also found that shutting schools ‘leads to more overall deaths from Covid-19’ than allowing them to remain open. Pictured: Pupils in face masks in Springburn Academy school in Glasgow in August
Pupils at Rosshall Academy wear face coverings in communal areas in Glasgow, Scotland
The study found that social distancing was more effective at reducing deaths when employed only by the over-70s, than when practised by the entire population.
It said it was inevitable that a large fraction of the population would be infected, but that ‘the final death toll depends primarily on the age distribution of those infected and not the total number’.
Government policy is focused on reducing Covid-19 cases across all age groups using measures such as pub curfews and the ‘rule of six’.
However, the authors suggested an alternative strategy aimed at minimising deaths could be more effective.
The study said this would involve ‘focusing stricter social distancing measures on care homes, where people are likely to die, rather than schools, where they are not’.
Lead author Professor Ackland added: ‘Locking students in their university halls and preventing people in care homes mixing will have the same effect on reducing cases, but a different effect on deaths.’
The study re-evaluated a model by Professor Neil Ferguson and his colleagues from Imperial College London, which predicted that hundreds of thousands of deaths would occur if no action was taken to stop the spread of Covid-19.
It supported the key findings of the report by Professor Ferguson.
Care worker Cath Roe talks to residents William Buxton and Neil Fox on her rounds at Ashwood Court residential care home in Warrington in July
The new analysis suggests that the strict lockdown imposed by Boris Johnson in March successfully reduced peak demand for intensive care beds, but also prolonged the Covid-19 pandemic.
Professor Ackland said this would result in more long-term coronavirus deaths unless an effective vaccination programme is implemented within the next six months, which experts believe is unlikely.
He said: ‘In the short term, closing schools contributed to reducing the severity of the first wave, to the extent that Nightingale hospitals were not needed, but the decision has left us more vulnerable to subsequent waves of infection.’
The researchers used a model called ‘CovidSim’, which replicates the actions of individuals going home, to school, work, university and hospital.
Paul McKeigue, professor of genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics at Edinburgh, said the conclusion of the paper was consistent with the general theme of ‘focused protection’ advocated in the Great Barrington Declaration reported in the Daily Mail yesterday.
He added: ‘Unless a vaccine became available, the only deaths that would be prevented by lockdowns would be the extra deaths resulting from the predicted overload of the health service.’
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University, added: ‘The headline result – that school closures in March could lead to a larger death toll over time – is intriguing and may cause some concern. In fact, this result applies to a specific, and probably unrealistic, scenario and should not be interpreted as a prediction.
Nicola Sturgeon (pictured today) has unveiled a dramatic ‘circuit breaker’ squeeze to coincide with the school half-term north of the border
The number of daily cases in Scotland has risen from under 300 two weeks ago – when a ban on households mixing indoors was introduced – to see 1,054 reported today
‘Nonetheless, this counterintuitive result does shed some light on the current debate about whether to allow herd immunity to build up.’
The rise in Covid cases in recent days, in Britain and in other countries, has triggered intense debate over how the pandemic should be handled.
With cases surging in a string of cities in northern England, the Prime Minister is considering a range of measures that could be announced before the end of the week, including the total closure of the hospitality sector in hotspots.
Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Government’s scientific advisory panel on disease outbreaks, recommended that a short national lockdown should be considered to slow the virus.
Downing Street rejected the Great Barrington Declaration’s call for a switch of Covid strategy on Wednesday.
The PM’s official spokesman said: ‘We have considered the full range of scientific opinion throughout the course of this pandemic and we will continue to do so.
Labour listed 21 areas where the case rate had increased since local lockdowns. However, the party accepted that in Leicester cases had been higher shortly before the restrictions were imposed than after, and so did not include it in the overall tally. Leicester and Oadby & Wigston were counted as one in the final total because they were originally treated as one area when the government brought in the restrictions
‘But it is not possible to rely on an unproven assumption that it is possible for people who are at lower risk should they contract the virus to avoid subsequently transmitting it to those who are at a higher risk and who would therefore face a greater chance of ending up in hospital, or worse in an intensive care unit.’
The spokesman acknowledged that lockdown measures were having health impacts but added: ‘It’s also worth stressing that another crucial consideration has been the need to protect the NHS so it can continue to provide critical care and treatment for illnesses such as cancer.’
The idea of imposing further restrictions on the millions who have faced lockdown restrictions for weeks was met with an angry response yesterday.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said ministers were facing ‘a dangerous winter of discontent in the North’In Burnley, which has been in local lockdown since July 21, the infection rate has increased over 20 times from 21 to 434 per 100,000.
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