Easing the coronavirus lockdown in the UK could begin by relaxing restrictions for around 60 per cent of the population while strengthening protection for the most vulnerable people, experts have suggested.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say the twin approach – known as “segmenting and shielding” – could help healthy younger adults return to work while still protecting the NHS.
The independent academics say lockdown restrictions could gradually be eased for most people over a 12-week period, as long as some measures were kept in place to keep transmission rates low.
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These would include self-isolation of people with Covid-19, quarantining affected households, contact tracing and voluntary social distancing.
The 20 per cent most vulnerable people in the country – the over 70s and those with underlying medical conditions – would need to be shielded from contact with anyone potentially infected with the virus.
Another 20 per cent of the population considered “shielders” – people sharing a house with a vulnerable person, care workers and health professionals – would also still need to follow strict guidelines to protect themselves from infection.
The team says the risk to non-vulnerable people could be managed without maintaining full lockdown. Their have made their findings available to both the UK and Scottish governments.
Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Segmentation and shielding recognises 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.”
Dr Bram van Bunnik, a postdoctoral research fellow at 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.”