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The British government is one that has so far introduced the least drastic measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. However, while last week there were only three recommendations – washing your hands, don’t go on a cruise if you are over 70 years of age and stay home for seven days if you have symptoms of the disease – on Monday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a radical shift in his strategy.
And the main cause of this change was a report prepared by the Imperial College London , which, using a mathematical model, concluded that if tougher measures were not taken, the pandemic could claim the lives of half a million people in the United Kingdom
It also predicted the collapse of the health system, as well as 2.2 million deaths in the United States, figures that could be halved with the “immediate” implementation of a strategy of “suppression”.
“Even if all patients could be treated, it was predicted that there would still be around 250,000 deaths in the UK and 1.1-1.2 million in the United States,” according to the report.
The first measures implemented by Johnson adopted a strategy known as “mitigation”, that is, to lessen the impact of the disease but without paralysing the entire nation. However, the thirty specialists who wrote the report considered that it was already necessary to go to the next stage of “suppression” similar to that adopted by the Chinese Government, and which requires social isolation.
Mitigation focuses on slowing down the spread and protecting those most at risk of complications, while suppression aims to “reverse the growth of the epidemic, reducing the number of cases to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely.”
“We could be living in a very different world from the one we know for more than a year,” Neil Ferguson, head of the Institution’s Mathematical Modelling program, told the Financial Times.
The study is entitled “Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand.”
It says that it is absolutely necessary to urgently introduce “social distancing of the entire population, combined with the isolation of cases in the home and the closure of schools and universities,” and that to “avoid an upturn in transmission,” these policies should be maintained until there are large stocks of vaccines available to immunise everybody in the country, which could be 18 months or more.”
In their conclusions, they explain that “it is difficult to be definitive about the probable duration of the measures that will be necessary, except that they will be certainly last for several months.”
However, the expert group stresses that “long-term suppression may not be a viable policy option in many countries” and that “interventions must be implemented well before health care capacity becomes overloaded.”
In the UK, they point out, these conclusions “have only been reached in the last few days.” They are based on the experience that we have gained from other countries and because the NHS is showing “increasing certainty around limits of hospital over load”. Therefore, “we conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at this time,” but they add that “the social and economic effects of the measures necessary to achieve this goal will be profound”.
The conclusions are devastating not only because of the numbers of possible deaths, but because the report goes further, stating that “we emphasise that it is not entirely certain that the suppression will be successful in the long term” since “no previous intervention has been attempted on such a scale, How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.”
Coincidentally, it was a group of researchers at Imperial College London who first tested a coronavirus vaccine on mice, and according to the British media, in June they could start clinical tests on humans, but the authorities estimate that a vaccine would not be available before next spring.
However, dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a coronavirus vaccine as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise and in the USA clinical trials got underway on Monday to test a human vaccine at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, according to an anonymous official.
In Kansas, Inovio Pharmaceuticals say that they will begin safety tests on their vaccine next month, with volunteers from the University of Pennsylvania signing up to take part. Similar tests are also planned in South Korea and China, but experts warned that it will take some time to create an effective vaccine.
At the time of writing, Thursday pm, there are currently 2,692 cases in the UK, an increase of 66 overnight with a total of 137 deaths, a rise of 33 from Wednesday.