BRITAIN is almost halfway through its third week of lockdown and the Government is set to review measures next week.
But with the coronavirus epidemic still to peak in the UK, people are starting to question when and how it will end.
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Countries across Europe are beginning to announce plans to gradually ease some of their restrictions sparking hope that the UK will soon follow.
However, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – who is standing in for the Prime Minister while he’s treated in intensive care for Covid-19 – says it’s “too early” to say what the “exit strategy” is.
While England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has warned it’s not yet possible to “call the point” at which lockdown measures can be relaxed.
Experts have revealed four possible strategies that the Government will likely be considering to get Britain back on its feet…
1. Herd immunity model
In the early stages of the outbreak in the UK, it was suggested one way of beating the virus was to allow 60 per cent of people to get infected – known as “herd immunity”.
It is when enough people become resistant to a disease that it can no longer spread among the rest of the population.
But the strategy was abandoned by the government after its scientific advisers said this would put the NHS under immense strain with critically ill patients.
Instead they moved to the “delay” stage and the country was put into a nationwide lockdown.
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But some experts have said that the UK needs to reconsider the controversial herd immunity policy.
Professor Graham Medley, the government’s chief pandemic modeller, claims catching the deadly disease could be the key to beating the pandemic – rather than letting unemployment, domestic violence and mental health mount up under lockdown.
The professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told The Times: “If we carry on with lockdown it buys us more time, we can get more thought put into it, but it doesn’t resolve anything — it’s a placeholder.”
Prof Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, says that for this strategy to work, we need to know the percentage of herd immunity in the country.
He told the Mirror that once it has reached 40 or 50 per cent, lockdown could be reduced.
But only antibody testing will allow us to find out that data – and experts say of the ones Britain has bought so far, none are up to scratch.
Boris Johnson hailed the checks as a potential “game-changer” in mid-March and said they were fast “coming down the track”.
Yet scientists have since admitted that an effective antibody test for coronavirus will take “at least a month” to develop for public use.
2. Tracing model
A second strategy is contact tracing – which involves identifying anyone who may have come into contact with an infected person.
In the early stages of the outbreak, Public Health England’s contact tracing response team was boosted to almost 300 staff – which was deemed adequate to cope with Covid-19.
They traced 3,500 people and supported the three per cent of contacts found to be infected and told to self-isolate before tracing was scaled back in mid-March as the UK moved to the delay phase, the Guardian reported.
It is now carried out in limited form, mainly for vulnerable communities, and those admitted to hospital.
The approach was followed more rigorously in other countries, including Ireland, Germany, South Korea and Singapore.
It’s also proved favourable in Germany where thousands of contact tracers are reportedly still being recruited to clear a backlog of infections before the country went into lockdown.
But Prof Hunter said that for it to be successful in the UK, we need to see a dramatic reduction in numbers and mass testing.
He explained: “You keep the lockdown until there are few, if any, cases and this is followed by rigorous contact tracing and isolation of cases, and their contacts when they are identified.”
The NHS is launching its own contact tracing app, which will operate on an opt-in basis, to detect people with Covid-19 using short-range Bluetooth signals – before alerting those nearby.
But they say large numbers of people using it will be necessary for it to work effectively.
3. Drug model
Another tactic would be to simply wait for an effective treatment for coronavirus.
It’s something that Prof Hunter insists isn’t too far off – but added that “it’s a big if”.
Experimental medicines for the deadly virus are being trialled across the globe – including 15 across NHS centres.
One of them is remdesivir – a drug designed to treat Ebola – with trials carried out in England and Scotland, overseen by infectious diseases expert Dr Andrew Ustianowski.
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He said: “What we really need, and what we really want, is a specific treatment against coronavirus that delays the infection, treats the infection, and hopefully makes people better.
“I think this drug is promising in the laboratory, and we’re hopeful it will be as promising in humans.
“In my heart I’m hopeful, but we do need studies such as this to work out how well it works and how best to use it.”
UK regulator Medicines and Healthcare Produces Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said they would prioritise and support any new drugs that could help the fight against Covid–19.
Oxford University researchers have also started trials on patients to see if HIV or inflammation drugs can help treat coronavirus.
Experts in Australia are also testing drugs normally used for malaria on patients with the virus.
Last week, the Health Secretary announced that the NHS had launched the world’s largest clinical trial for coronavirus treatments – and needs more patients to take part.
4. Vaccine model
Experts seem to be in consensus that a vaccine is the ultimate exit strategy from the disease.
But with expectations that a jab won’t be widely available for several months, most are in agreement that remaining in lockdown until then is unsustainable.
Scientists from across the globe are racing to be the first to develop a vaccine though.
Oxford University researchers say they aim to have theirs ready by the autumn of this year – in a “best-case scenario”.
This is much quicker than the 12 to 18-month wait for a jab that Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, has predicted.
Despite this, the Oxford team – one of many working to develop a vaccination for Covid-19 – warned that it was still trying to source funding for manufacturing the potential drug.