Thursday, 9 April 2020

Containment prolongs the pandemic

Professor Knut Wittkowski who headed the Rockefeller University`s Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research design for twenty years, says that social distancing and lockdown is the worst way to deal with an airborne respiratory virus.

"As with every respiratory disease we should protect the elderly and fragile because when they get pneumonia they have a high risk of dying of the pneumonia. So that is one of the key issues that we should keep in mind and on the other hand children do very well with these diseases. They`re evolutionarily designed to be exposed to all sorts of viruses during their lifetime and so they should keep going to school and infecting each other and that contributes to herd immunity which means after about four weeks, at the most, the elderly people could start joining their family because then the virus would have been extinguished."

Containment would prolong the disease

"With all respiratory diseases the only thing that stops the disease is herd immunity. About 80% of the people need to have had contact with the virus and the majority of them won`t even have recognised that they were infected or they had very very mild symptoms, especially if they are children. So it`s very important to keep the schools open and children mingling to spread the virus to get herd immunity as fast as possible and then the elderly people, who should be separated, and the nursing homes should be closed during that time, can come back and meet their children and grandchildren after about four weeks when the virus has been exterminated."

The presenter asks: "So what do you make of the policy that was enacted in the United States and in England and most places throughout the world, this policy of containment... what`s your opinion of it?"

"Well what people are trying to do is to flatten the curve. I don`t really know why, but what happens if you flatten the curve, you also prolong it - to widen it - and it takes more time and I don`t see a good reason for a respiratory disease to stay in the population longer than necessary..."

 "It`s not the first cornavirus that comes out and it won`t be the last and for all respiratory diseases we have the same type of an epidemic. If you leave it alone it comes for two weeks; it peaks; and it goes for two weeks and it`s gone."

"You said the pandemic is over. What did you mean by that?"

"There are no more new cases in China and in South Korea. The number of new cases in Europe is already beginning to decline. The virus came later to the US so here we see a bit of an incline maybe levelling off within the next couple of days and if we see that the cases are not increasing dramatically that means that the number of new infections has already declined substantially and peaked about a week ago..."

"There is no indications that anything is different from a regular flu. Maybe one that`s a bit... worse than other flus could be..."

"For a respiratory disease, the flu ends during springtime when people spend more time outdoors because outdoors the viruses cannot easily spread. That is a form of containment, so spending more time outdoors [is a sensible choice].

Presenter: "So we`re now spending more time indoors. We`ve been told to go indoors. Isn`t that ... doesn`t that help keep the virus going?"

"It keeps the virus healthy, yes."

"So we should be told to go outdoors?"

"Yeah. Going outdoors is what stops every respiratory disease."

"China had an advantage that in the beginning they didn`t know what they were dealing with so it took them a long time to start the containment or social distancing which in the course of the epidemic is good because there was enough time for the virus to reach herd immunity before the social distancing started."

Presenter: "Neil Ferguson at Imperial College changed his estimate of the number of dead in England from 500,000 to 20,000 or less and he says that is because of social distancing. Now we know that the way in which social distancing was implemented in England was not very severe or extreme or efficient so this was after one day of lockdown. He announced that, in fact, it would be 20,000 or less. Is there any possibility that that number would have changed that way because of the social distancing?"

"No. Actually we have data for that... Both in China and South Korea, social distancing starts only long after the number of infections had already started to decline; and, therefore, had very little impact on the epidemic. That means they had already reached herd immunity or were about to reach herd immunity..."

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