A group of scientists are calling on the UK government to change its lockdown strategy in hopes of achieving “herd immunity“. An anti-lockdown petition called “The Great Barrington Declaration” has been drawn up to try on the premise that the coronavirus pandemic can be overcome by using ‘Focused Protection’.

If the petition gets enough signatures, it could mean that older people and other high-risk demographics would continue shielding, while those in “less danger”, as the petition puts it, would “immediately be allowed to resume life as normal”.

However, a number of world-class epidemiologists are concerned, because the petition does not outline a concrete plan for how this would happen in practice.

Let’s explore.

What is the Great Barrington Declaration?

  • The Great Barrington Declaration is a petition letter that calls for a “herd immunity” approach in the UK in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the creators of the petition, this could be done by allowing young people to return to ordinary life while continuing to protect the more vulnerable citizens.

The authors of the declaration are Sunetra Gupta, of Oxford University, Jay Bhattacharya, of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff, of Harvard University. The three scientists argue that the lockdowns and restrictions are having “devastating effects” particularly on people’s mental health.

The declaration suggests that mental health problems caused by lockdown may improve if ‘Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities’ could resume. This means that ‘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.’

However, the petition doesn’t go into detail on how exactly this would be put into practice. While this strategy may sound like what many of us need right now – a return to pubs, nightlife and house parties – such a return to the “old normal” could result in a boom of new Covid cases among young and old alike.

And let us now forget about the dangers of long-haul Covid, which can leave young sufferers with chronic disabilities.

Reactions to the UK’s anti-lockdown petition

Many are still wary of signing the anti-lockdown petition without any concrete information on how it would be put into practice.

William Hanage, who is a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University, thinks that the Great Barrington Declaration seemed to attack the idea of a UK-wide lockdown, a proposal nobody suggested in the first place. “After pointing out, correctly, the indirect damage caused by the pandemic, they respond that the answer is to increase the direct damage caused by it,” says Hanage.

Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at Yale University, argued in a Twitter thread that city shutdowns and other such strategies were still necessary to reduce rates of Covid infection. He also argues that there is no set plan for the elderly: “If you’re going to turbo-charge community spread, as everyone else at “low-risk” goes about their business, I want the plan for my 86 year old mother to be more than theoretical. They do NOT have one.”

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