Opinion

Corona policy: US elite epidemiologists warn of dramatic consequences

Picture shows the renowned epidemiologist Dr. Sunetra Gupta, Professor at Oxford University, Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Prof. at Harvard University Medical School and Prof. Jay Bhattacharya, who conducts research at Stanford University.

The measures to combat the “corona pandemic” are coming under increasing criticism, not only in Canada, but also in the USA. A petition from professors from various elite universities against the lockdown of business and society and the serious consequences caused by it was recently started there, and has already been signed by more than 7,500 scientists, 17,500 medical professionals and 270,000 other citizens.

They argue that the restrictions to contain the virus caused “irreparable damage” and claimed more deaths than COVID-19 itself. The socially disadvantaged are particularly disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of the lockdown. Therefore, a U-turn in previous policy is called for.

Anyone who does not belong to the known risk groups should lead a normal life and be able to go about their daily business, and as a result, herd immunity develops over time from which society as a whole benefits.

The protective measures should be limited to people for whom infection with the virus poses a particularly high health risk. The authors refer to this approach as “focused protection.”

Among the initiators of the petition, which was named after the place of origin as the Great Barrington Declaration is called, the renowned epidemiologists include Dr. Sunetra Gupta, Professor at Oxford University, Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Professor at Harvard University Medical School and Prof. Jay Bhattacharya, who conducts research at Stanford University. The statement by the scientists follows the line formulated by US President Donald Trump, which recently urged Americans not to live in constant fear of the pandemic and let the virus dominate their everyday lives.

In addition to the social, the petition focuses on the health consequences of the lockdown, which are devastating both in the short and long term.

Because of the fear of becoming infected with the virus, visits to the doctor are avoided and necessary operations are postponed. The result: countless problematic cases of cardiovascular diseases, prospectively more cancer deaths because preventive medical examinations are taken less often during the pandemic, and lower vaccination rates for children. All of this leads to the expectation of high excess mortality in the coming years, some of which is already detectable.

In Great Britain alone, up to 10,000 seriously ill patients are said to have died prematurely who did not want to be treated in hospital because of the fear of Covid infection. Prof. Richard Sullivan of King’s College, London, warns that there could be more additional cancer deaths in the country than corona deaths due to limited access to checkups and therapies due to the lockdown.

His colleague Prof. Karol Sikora of the NHS National Health System, a globally recognized oncologist, puts the additional number of cancer deaths in the UK at up to 50,000.

Prof. Peter Nilsson from Lund University in Sweden has a similar opinion:

“It’s important to understand that the death toll from COVID-19 is far fewer than those who die from social lockdown and economic ruin.”

In South Africa, where the government has taken particularly tough measures to contain the pandemic, the economic standstill is expected to kill 29 times as many people as the virus, according to an analysis.  Experts also estimate that 1.4 million people worldwide will die of tuberculosis because doctors cannot adequately treat the disease because of the restrictions.

In light of these findings, the Barrington Declaration outlines an alternative approach to dealing with the virus. The following is the full text of the 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.”

Politicians in Canada should heed the recommendations of the declaration because we cannot afford a second national lockdown – neither economically nor socially!

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