University researchers propose two-tier system to ease lockdown
A team of researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and London is calling for vulnerable people to have their protection strengthened while restrictions are eased for everyone else when the decision is made to end the lockdown.
Dr Bram van Bunnik of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said: “Easing the measures taken during the lockdown is important as they currently have a tremendous effect on our society, but this should only be done in a way that is both safe for the people that are most vulnerable as well as for the health and safety of NHS staff.
“Segmentation and shielding is a possible way of achieving this: measures could be eased for a large proportion of the population, however the vulnerable population likely still needs to be protected for a prolonged period.”
This approach – known as segmenting and shielding – is proposed as the only viable option to ease lockdown without resulting in preventable deaths and increased pressure on the NHS.
University of Edinburgh epidemiology professor Mark Woolhouse added: “Segmentation and shielding recognizes that, although social distancing impacts on the whole of society, the public health burden of Covid-19 is concentrated in a subset of vulnerable people.
“By targeting protection to those that need it most, the strategy helps to ensure that the health system is not overwhelmed by severe cases, while giving policy makers greater leeway to partially relax social distancing measures for the majority of the population.”
The researchers have published a new paper which recommends segmenting people into two risk groups based on medical history and healthcare needs. It would result in healthy people getting more freedom while ensuring that the most vulnerable people remain safe.
Increased freedom would still require safety measures such as self-isolation of people with coronavirus, quarantining households, contact tracing and social distancing.
The policy would demand high standards of hygiene and protective measures at home and in institutions such as care homes and hospitals.
The researchers say the models are robust to a wide range of assumptions about immunity to Covid-19, but they caution that not enough is known about the build-up of immunity in affected populations. The team stresses that this aspect of the epidemic needs to be monitored very closely.
The full paper can be found here.