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New scientific paper suggests high deaths from coronavirus without effective containment

Epidemiologists say that if the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 is not stopped, deaths in the U.S. could potentially reach 2.2 million deaths.
Tue Mar 17, 2020 - 4:48 pm EST
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LONDON, England, March 17, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Epidemiologists say that if the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 is not stopped, deaths in the U.S. could potentially reach 2.2 million and in Britain 510,000. 

The COVID-19 Response Team from London’s Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine published a paper yesterday about preventing the pandemic from overwhelming the health systems of both the U.K. and the U.S. Their findings have already been used to influence governmental policy in the U.K. and other nations.

The team, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, reported that the world is facing the most serious public health threat from a respiratory virus since the so-called Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Using data about the pandemic and the capacities of the British and American health networks, they have accessed the various public health measures that can be taken to stop people from spreading the highly contagious virus. 

The two strategies the epidemiologists proposed were mitigation, which will slow down the speed at which the virus is being passed on, and suppression, which will reverse its progress. The Response Team prefers suppression as a strategy, claiming that mitigation will still lead to a high mortality rate. 

“We find that that [sic] optimal mitigation policies (combining home isolation of suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease) might reduce peak healthcare demand by 2/3 and deaths by half,” they wrote. 

“However, the resulting mitigated epidemic would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over. For countries able to achieve it, this leaves suppression as the preferred policy option.” 

In America and the U.K., they say this suppression will require, at very least, social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of people with the virus and the household quarantine of their families. This will need to be maintained until a Covid-19 vaccine is available ― something that may be 18 months in the future.

If the “suppression” method is relaxed too soon, the virus could rebound. But at the same time, the suppression measures carry “profound” consequences for society. 

“[W]hile experience in China and now South Korea show that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced,” the epidemiologists wrote. 

If no precautions were taken, and the virus was allowed to take its course, the mortality rate – by which the report means daily deaths – would peak after three months. Eighty-one percent (81%) of both Great Britain and the U.S. would be infected and, the Response Team predicted, there would be 2.2 million coronavirus deaths in the U.S. and 510,000 in the U.K. Britain’s death rate would peak in late May, and America’s in early June. 

However, this does not take into consideration all the people who would die from accidents and ailments that went untreated because hospitals were overflowing. The Response Team estimated that, if left to run through the population unchecked, COVID-19 would lead to Intensive Care Units being overfilled by mid-April.

“For an uncontrolled epidemic, we predict critical care bed capacity would be exceeded as early as the second week in April, with an eventual peak in ICU or critical care bed demand that is over 30 times greater than the maximum supply in both countries,” they wrote. 

But even a mitigating strategy would overwhelm the hospitals, so they advise that suppression is probably necessary to stop the contagion in the countries that can actually carry it out. This, unfortunately, requires the social distancing of the entire population for five months. 

“Given that mitigation is unlikely to be a viable option without overwhelming healthcare systems, suppression is likely necessary in countries able to implement the intensive controls required,” the Response Team wrote.  

“Our projections show that to be able to reduce [rate of transmission] to close to 1 or below, a combination of case isolation, social distancing of the entire population and either household quarantine or school and university closure are required,” they continued.   

Household quarantine would be made more effective by closing down schools and universities―although this does not account to all the parents who would otherwise be working in the ICU having to tend to their children at home.  

This slowing down of the spread of the virus through the U.S. and the U.K. will not stop it completely, and the Response Team warns that the suppression policies would have to be maintained until a vaccine is available. However, it may be possible to give the population of a given area breaks from the measures, depending on the local situation. 

“To avoid a rebound in transmission, these policies will need to be maintained until large stocks of vaccine are available to immunise the population – which could be 18 months or more,” they wrote.  

“Adaptive hospital surveillance-based triggers for switching on and off population-wide social distancing and school closure offer greater robustness to uncertainty than fixed duration interventions and can be adapted for regional use (e.g. at the state level in the US),” they continued.  

“Given local epidemics are not perfectly synchronised, local policies are also more efficient and can achieve comparable levels of suppression to national policies while being in force for a slightly smaller proportion of the time. However, we estimate that for a national [Great Britain] policy, social distancing would need to be in force for at least 2/3 of the time ... until a vaccine was available.”

The Response Team concluded that the epidemic suppression method  – involving the social distancing of the entire population – is the “only viable strategy” now.  

“We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time,” they wrote.  

“The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound. Many countries have adopted such measures already, but even those countries at an earlier stage of their epidemic (such as the UK) will need to do so imminently.”


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