A prominent Indian-origin Oxford University academic is leading a group of over 30 academics who have expressed their doubts over the UK government's localised and national lockdown approach to tackling a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Professor Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, co-authored a letter addressed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this week as a "constructive input" into the government's policy response to the rising number of coronavirus infections.
"In summary, our view is that the existing policy path is inconsistent with the known risk-profile of COVID-19 and should be reconsidered," notes the open letter.
"Instead, more targeted measures that protect the most vulnerable from COVID, whilst not adversely impacting those not at risk, are more supportable... Such targeted measures should be explored as a matter of urgency, as the logical cornerstone of our future strategy," the group says.
The group recommends more targeted measures that protect the groups most vulnerable to the deadly virus.
They argue that because 89 per cent of COVID-19 deaths are in the over 65 group and are also concentrated in people with pre-existing medical conditions, these are the groups at which interventions should be targeted.
"This large variation in risk by age and health status suggests that the harm caused by uniform policies (that apply to all persons) will outweigh the benefits," the letter reads, warning that the effect on cancer treatment is especially acute, with people delaying or missing screenings, tests, or treatments.
However, Gupta's team goes head to head with a contrary scientific point of view put forward in an open letter by Trisha Greenhalgh, Chair of Primary Care Health Aciences at Oxford University, signed by Edinburgh-based Indian-origin academic Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health, Edinburgh Medical School, among 23 other academics.
"We strongly support your continuing efforts to suppress the virus across the entire population, rather than adopt a policy of segmentation or shielding the vulnerable until "herd immunity" has developed," reads the letter addressed to the CMOs.
Their letter, published in the 'British Medical Journal', says that the UK may have to move flexibly between levels of restriction rather than either full lockdown or release, depending on how well the virus is controlled.
The debate within the scientific community comes as Johnson laid out a new set of restrictions to come in force from yesterday which once again requires people to work from home where possible and for hospitality businesses to bring down their shutters hours earlier in the evening.
Johnson has told Parliament that the country should expect the restrictions to remain in place for around six months.