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If UK has achieved herd immunity….

where does Australia go next?

There are some early signs the United Kingdom could be approaching coronavirus herd immunity, which may shine a spotlight on Australia’s commitment to a suppression strategy.A leading epidemiologist, Professor John Mathews from University of Melbourne, said the latest British data would need to be assessed in about a fortnight in “the cold light of day” but herd immunity may be occurring.Official statistics from NHS England pointed to a huge drop in the number of coronavirus patients being treated in hospitals now compared to mid-April, during the height of the pandemic.

Doctors in England are today treating around 700 patients daily, down from approximately 17,000 four months ago.The 96 percent drop has led to suggestions herd immunity could be close.Prof. Mathews, a former head of Australia’s National Centre for Disease Control and ex-Federal Government Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said the UK’s delayed lockdown measures may ultimately prove advantageous.The UK waited longer than many European countries to enforce strict lockdowns.

During a media briefing in early March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said banning major public events would have little effect on the spread of the virus.”Because they missed the bus, a larger, much larger, proportion of the population was infected,” Prof. Mathews said.”The only caveat I’d make is we probably need to wait another couple of weeks to make sure the curve in the UK doesn’t go up again.”But [the data] is suggesting that a larger proportion of people were infected without getting symptoms and that a proportion of them have now got immunity.”[This] is a plausible explanation for why the rates in the UK have gone down so dramatically recently.”Prof. Matthews said it was uncertain how long people who contracted the virus but were asymptomatic might retain immunity.

People in England enjoy the hot weather on Durley and Alum Chine beaches. England, last weekend.
People in England enjoy the hot weather on Durley and Alum Chine beaches. England, last weekend. (PA / Andrew Matthews)

“It is important that we look at all the evidence and reassess the British experience over the next few weeks and compare it with what’s happening in Victoria and what happened in New South Wales and other parts of Australia to help us to decide precisely what should be done, given where we are at the moment,” he said.After the initial national lockdown, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s public strategy has been aggressive suppression.But Prof. Mathews questioned whether suppression was a viable long-term strategy because so few Australians have been infected with the virus.”The prime minister in particular keeps emphasising suppression – not elimination – because he thinks the economic costs of going for elimination will be too great,” he said.”But the economic cost of continuing with suppression without an endpoint is also going to be very great.”If we suppress now, we still haven’t got an immune population.”So the end game is either a vaccine – or becoming immune if enough of the population get infected, and at the moment we’re trying to avoid that.”Prof. Mathews called it a “catch-22” that the highest levels of government have known about for a long time.Sunetra Gupta, a professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, has criticised the Australian strategy of suppression.She is an advocate of lifting lockdowns to enable the spread of the virus.While the validity of herd immunity is in question, the death rate per capita in the UK is certain and ranked the third worst in the world.For every 100,000 people in the UK, there have been 70.18 deaths. The per capita death rate in Australia is just 1.25.Sweden, the most high-profile nation to pursue herd immunity, has world’s eighth worst death per capita statistics, according to Johns Hopkins University data.”[The UK] suffered economically with the shutdown. But if they really have got the herd immunity now and the virus is not going to have another wave then, in a sense, the economic costs for Britain are more or less over,” Prof. Mathews said.”Whereas in Australia, while we have still got the virus and we’re striving for suppression, we’re nowhere near having enough people infected to generate herd immunity.”So we’ve got to keep the lockdown at a level to keep the suppression going.” READ ORIGINAL CHANNEL 9 NEWS ITEM WITH MORE INFO