The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against the idea of allowing Covid-19 to simply spread through society, calling this “herd immunity” approach to fighting the pandemic “unethical.”
“Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding an outbreak, let alone a pandemic,” said WHO chief Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said during a virtual briefing on Monday, calling the idea “unethical.”
Tedros added that herd immunity to a virus is usually achieved when the vast majority of the population, 80 percent, in the case of polio, is vaccinated, rather than deliberately infected.
“The vast majority of people in most countries remain susceptible to this virus,” he said, adding that “allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It’s not an option.”
Tedros’ words came days after the WHO’s Dr. David Nabarro warned world leaders against using lockdowns as their “primary control method” against the virus.
Nabarro explained that lockdowns only buy healthcare systems time to “reorganize, regroup, [and] rebalance your resources,” and have disastrous economic consequences that worsen poverty and inequality in society.
The WHO did not always oppose lockdowns, but it cautioned at the outset of the pandemic that, unless accompanied by proper systems of isolation and contact tracing, they would only pause the spread of the virus.
The WHO also advised against travel restrictions back in January and February.
However, localized lockdowns are one tool currently being used in an effort to get a grip on the rapidly resurging virus.
In the UK on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a three-tiered system of local restrictions, dependent on the rate of infection in different areas, while the French government last week declared that some local restrictions would remain in place until at least the end of 2020.
In Ireland, disease specialists have warned the public that Dublin could be under lockdown for years, though official advisers have not made any such bold statements yet.
Ireland, for instance, currently has over 6,600 coronavirus patients – with some 32,000 cases registered in total since the beginning of the pandemic. Irish health experts warned on Wednesday the country might be facing an “exponential growth” in cases, urging everyone to “immediately act to break chains of transmission of the virus.”
Not all have followed the same approach though. In Sweden, the government never implemented a lockdown, and while cases there have begun to rise in recent weeks, deaths remain extremely low, with none reported since Friday.
However, deaths were high in Sweden at the outset of the pandemic, with the majority occurring in nursing homes.
Worldwide, nearly 38 million cases of Covid-19 have been recorded, along with more than a million deaths.
The U.S. has seen the highest number of cases and deaths in the world, with 7.7 million and nearly 215,000 respectively.
WHO warns of ‘very serious’ Covid-19 situation in Europe
About a month ago, the WHO warned:
Europe is facing a “very serious situation” with the coronavirus spreading at “alarming rates.”
The number of new Covid-19 cases in Europe has surpassed the spikes observed during the first wave of the disease that swept across the continent early this year, WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge said during a news conference on Thursday.
Hans Kluge said:
“Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March,” he said. “Last week, the region’s weekly tally exceeded 300,000 patients.”
Over half of European nations have reported an increase of more than 10 percent in their new coronavirus cases over the past two weeks, while seven of them have seen a more-than-twofold increase, the official said, urging the nations to re-impose lockdown measures as soon as possible.
“In the spring and early summer we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off. In June, cases hit an all-time low. The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us,” he warned.
Even those countries which been relatively spared by the pandemic have observed a sharp increase in active cases.
Ireland could be stuck with level 3 COVID-19 restrictions for FIVE years, warns expert
Ireland could be stuck at level three restrictions for three to five years, an infectious disease expert has warned.
Professor Sam McConkey told RTE Radio 1’s Katie Hannon that if the country continues as it is, public health restrictions could be in place for years to come.
Coronavirus figures in Ireland have surged in recent weeks as the second wave crashes across the country, with thousands of new cases reported in the Republic this week and more than a thousand in one day north of the border on Friday.
He said: “If we want to get out of this in any comfortable prompt way I think we need more restrictions.
“The level three in Dublin is seeing a levelling off, they’re continuing to rise around the country.
“Staying where we’re at is not really good enough. For 600 cases we’re now seeing five or six deaths.”
He added: “I don’t think going on like this for three to five years is a good idea.
“This is a medium term strategy, it’s not getting us out of this now.”
The doctor described the current situation as “purgatory” and pushed for a zero-COVID strategy, which has been dismissed by other experts as unworkable.
He added: “We had politicians telling us we’d have a vaccine by Christmas, now suddenly they’ve gone quiet.
“Now we’re hearing about how long it will take to roll it out.”
The professor said the idea of a technical solution to fix this was unlikely and suggested an approach with social and physical distance in coming months.
He also suggested turning hotels around Dublin Airport into “observed quarantine facilities.”
Danish professor says Swedish population nearing herd immunity to Covid-19
About a month ago, with much of Europe struggling to contain a second wave of coronavirus infections, a Danish professor has claimed that the pandemic “may be finished” in Sweden, thanks to herd immunity.
Kim Sneppen, a professor of biocomplexity at Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute, believes that the Swedes are finally developing ‘herd immunity’ to the deadly virus.
“There are indications that the Swedes have gained an element of immunity to the disease, which, together with everything else they are doing to prevent the infection from spreading, is enough to keep the disease down,” he told Politiken.
When a certain percentage of the population has been infected with a virus, recovered, and grown immune, the virus can no longer find enough new hosts to spread. At this point, the population has achieved ‘herd immunity’ to the virus. Typically, 60 percent of the population must be infected to reach this point, but Stockholm University mathematician Tom Britton told Politiken that even “20 percent immunity makes a pretty big difference.”
However, herd immunity was a controversial concept at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. British prime minister Boris Johnson was slammed in the media for suggesting that the UK could take the virus “on the chin,” and suffer a short-term spike in deaths in exchange for herd immunity in the long run.
Sweden was the only European country to embrace this idea, and opted not to implement a lockdown. Gatherings of more than 50 people were banned, and the elderly were told to stay at home. Otherwise, masks were not recommended, and bars, restaurants, schools and businesses remained open. Citizens were asked, not ordered, to practice social distancing and work from home if possible.
Denmark, by contrast, was one of the first European countries to impose a lockdown on its citizens. All schools were shut and non-essential workers ordered to stay at home. Gatherings of more than ten people were forbidden, and shopping centers, bars, restaurants, and close-contact businesses like salons and gyms were closed.
These restrictions were lifted in June, but the country has since experienced a surge in new infections. 454 cases of Covid-19 were reported on Friday, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.
Sweden did pay a price for its seemingly longer-term success. At 580, the country’s death toll per million inhabitants is five times higher than Denmark’s 109, and the death rate was much higher in Sweden in April, May and June than it was in Denmark.
“That is what they have paid. On the positive side, they may now be finished with the epidemic,” Sneppen said.
Nevertheless, Sweden’s fatality rate is still lower than some countries that did implement harsh lockdowns, like Spain and the UK, with 652 and 614 deaths per million respectively.
By the end of May, around half of Sweden’s deaths had occurred in nursing homes, and these fatalities caused an outpouring of public anger earlier this summer. As stories of older patients left to die in these facilities circulated, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven admitted that his government “did not manage to protect the most vulnerable people, the most elderly, despite our best intentions.”
Despite the death toll, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, told France24 last week that “we are happy with our strategy,” adding: “we are heading into the fall with some confidence.”