Lancet Editor-in-Chief: Boris Coronavirus Strategy ‘A Grave Error’

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The editor-in-chief of The Lancet has labelled Boris Johnson’s coronavirus strategy “a grave error” and published an open letter asking for the models informing his policy to be made publicly available, along with a number of other prominent medical figures.

Besides delaying local and mayor elections scheduled for this year until 2021, Johnson’s government had implemented few policies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus as of March 13th, instead simply advising citizens to regularly wash their hands.

Instead, it appears the Government wants large numbers of people to become infected with the virus, in hopes most will recover and confer “herd immunity” on the population before the coming winter, when they expect it to be more dangerous.

This stands in stark contrast to policies adopted by countries such as Mongolia and Russia, which began restricting travel from China and other infected countries early — on and consequently have few cases at the present time — or the likes of South Korea and Italy, where the virus has become prevalent and the authorities are attempting to slow its spread through the imposition of strict quarantine and “social distancing” measures, in hopes this will stop their health services from being overwhelmed by too many people becoming ill all at once.

Boris Johnson’s government did not suspend travel from any country stricken by the coronavirus, has not imposed mandatory testing and self-isolation for travellers, and has not banned mass gatherings, with government minister Whatley telling the BBC: “As the Chief Medical Officer said, and I have been advised, the evidence tells us that stopping mass gatherings doesn’t have a huge impact on the spread of the virus”.

This approach has caused considerable disquiet — the Government has now indicated it may ban mass gatherings from next week after all — and has now come under fire from Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet — arguably the world’s most prestigious medical journal.

“What troubles me about the UK govt’s response to COVID-19 is its strategic objective,” Dr Horton wrote on social media.

“The goal seems to have been herd immunity, delaying urgent action to allow an epidemic to infect large numbers of people. Instead, the goal should have been to save lives. A grave error.”

He also said it was a “myth” that “the public will tire of restrictions to their freedoms” — a supposition which is said to have strongly informed the models the Government is using to time its implementation of containment measures.

“In fact, the public acted to socially distance, avoid mass gatherings, and work remotely ahead of govt advice,” Horton observed.

“The govt has underestimated the public’s capacity to understand and act.”

He has also written an open letter, published by The Times, urging the Government to make its modelling publicly available, given its strategy is “demonstrably different from most countries’ responses globally and in Europe.”

“[I]t is imperative to delay and ‘flatten’ the epidemic curve to ensure the NHS can cope,” Horton’s group wrote.

“This is particularly essential for the UK, which (according to OECD data) has 2.5 hospital beds per 1,000 population, behind Italy (3.2), France (6.0), and the U.S. (2.8)… [W]e request that the Government urgently and openly share the scientific evidence, data, and models it is using to inform its decisions on the [coronavirus]”, they urged.

Dr Nisreen Alwan, associate professor in public health at the University of Southampton, Dr Miriam Orcutt, senior research fellow at University College London’s Institute for Global Health, Dr Anne Wilson, lecturer in epidemiology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Dr Peter Tennant, university academic fellow in health at the University of Leeds, and Devi Shridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, signed the letter alongside Dr Horton.

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