As Europe COVID-19 cases rocket, experts warn herd immunity a dangerous strategy

Published: 16 October, 2020 13:16 IST | Agencies | London

Managing COVID-19 by allowing herd immunity to develop in low-risk populations while protecting the most vulnerable is "a dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence," warn an international group of 80 researchers in an open letter

A Bulgarian Roma child peers from behind a curtain in a village on the outskirts of Burgas. In Bulgaria, Roma communities were sprayed with disinfectant. In Slovakia, their villages were the only ones where the army conducted testing. And across Central and Eastern Europe, reports of police using excessive force against Roma spiked as officers were deployed to enforce lockdowns. Human rights activists and experts say local officials in several countries with significant Roma populations have used the pandemic to unlawfully target the minority group. With cases now resurging, some experts fear the repression will return, too. PIC/AP
A Bulgarian Roma child peers from behind a curtain in a village on the outskirts of Burgas. In Bulgaria, Roma communities were sprayed with disinfectant. In Slovakia, their villages were the only ones where the army conducted testing. And across Central and Eastern Europe, reports of police using excessive force against Roma spiked as officers were deployed to enforce lockdowns. Human rights activists and experts say local officials in several countries with significant Roma populations have used the pandemic to unlawfully target the minority group. With cases now resurging, some experts fear the repression will return, too. PIC/AP

The head of the World Health Organisation's Europe office said the exponential surge of coronavirus cases across the continent has warranted the restrictive measures being taken across the continent, calling them "absolutely necessary" to stop the pandemic. Record daily infection figures in Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland and elsewhere added to fears on Thursday that Europe is running out of chances to control its latest coronavirus outbreak.

Need more drastic steps

In a press briefing on Thursday, Dr Hans Kluge warned that even more drastic steps might be needed in such "unprecedented times." He called for countries and their citizens to be "uncompromising" in their attempts to control the virus and said most of the COVID-19 spread is happening in homes, indoor spaces and in communities not complying with protection measures. He said the coronavirus is now the 5th-leading cause of death in Europe and noted the region recently surpassed the threshold of reporting 8,000 deaths per day. Kluge cited epidemiological models that suggested if 95 per cent of people wear masks and other physical distancing measures are applied, Europe could avoid about 281,000 deaths by February. But he warned that relaxing measures could lead to a five-fold increase in deaths by January.

Herd immunity not a solution

Managing COVID-19 by allowing herd immunity to develop in low-risk populations while protecting the most vulnerable is "a dangerous fallacy unsupported by the scientific evidence," warn an international group of 80 researchers in an open letter. The letter, published in The Lancet journal, noted that any pandemic management strategy relying upon the population to develop immunity from natural infections for COVID-19 is flawed. he researchers cautioned that there is currently no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after natural infection. They said this waning immunity as a result of natural infection would not end the COVID-19 pandemic but instead result in repeated waves of transmission over several years.

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