Scientists advising the Government on coronavirus considered a plan to ask everyone over the age of 45 to shield.
It was suggested those over 45 were at greater risk from the virus, and more likely to die from it, so could be ‘segmented’ from the rest of the population. The suggestion, revealed in papers from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), was eventually advised against, as it was considered unlikely to be successful.
However, it is being kept under review, and news of it follows a similar option drawn up by officials to potentially target over-50s with another lockdown.
The minutes of the 48th meeting of the Sage scientists, held on July 23, state: ‘Although under-45s are at less risk from Covid-19, including lower risk of death, they are nonetheless at some risk and long-term sequelae (consequences) are not well understood.’
The document adds: ‘Around two-thirds of people in the UK live in a household which includes one or more individuals aged 45 and above. Any segmentation based on this age threshold would therefore affect most households.’
The ‘segmentation’ looked at would have involved those over 45 shielding, which early in the pandemic meant staying at home, and avoiding unnecessary contact with others.
SAGE considered a plan where those aged over 45 would be asked to shield while the rest of the population continued moving around. It is being kept under review. (Stock image)
SAGE said up to two-thirds of the UK lives in mixed-age households, making the plan unworkable. Above are students enjoying a night out in Birmingham yesterday
Minutes from July 16 note there is likely to be ‘merit’ in segmenting society by age, particularly ‘to vulnerable people and those likely to have more contact with vulnerable people’.
It continues: ‘Data shows that people tend to have more contacts with others around their own age, but also have a significant number of contacts with those 20-30 years older and younger than themselves (likely to mainly be contacts between parents and children).
‘There are also significant levels of contact between grandparents and children.’
Figures reveal that children and those aged below 45 are at far lower risk of dying from coronavirus than those aged over 75.
Office for National Statistics data reveals only four Covid-19 deaths were recorded in children aged one to 14 years old in England and Wales, or less than 0.01 per cent of the total. And 574 have been recorded in those aged 15 to 44, or 0.96 per cent of the total.
In comparison, 39,058 people aged 75 and over have died from the virus, or 65 per cent of the total.
The ‘segmented’ shielding was discussed at two meetings of SAGE, published minutes reveal
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LONG COVID AND HOW BAD IS THE PROBLEM?
Covid-19 is described as a short-term illness caused by infection with the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Public health officials tend to say people will recover within two weeks or so.
However it’s become increasingly clear that this is not the case for everyone, and that the two-week period is only the ‘acute illness’ phase.
The North Bristol NHS Trust’s Discover project, which is studying the longer-term effects of coronavirus, is just one of a handful of studies to have shown the long impact of Covid-19. However it only studied hospital patients.
A total of 163 patients with coronavirus were recruited to the study. Nineteen of those died. The remainder were invited for a three-month check-up and 110 attended.
Most (74 per cent) had at least one persistent symptom after twelve weeks. The most common were:
- Excessive fatigue: 39%
- Breathlessness: 39%
- Insomnia: 24%
- Muscle pain: 23%
- Chest pain: 13%
- Cough: 12%
- Loss of smell: 12%
- Headache, fever, joint pain and diarrhoea: Each less than 10%
Patients who had suffered more severe Covid-19 reported more symptoms on their follow-up.
Other long term symptoms that have been reported by Covid-19 survivors, both suspected and confirmed, anecdotally, include:
- Hearing problems
- ‘Brain fog’
- Memory loss
- A lack of concentration
- Mental health problems
- Hair loss
The impact of long Covid on people who had mild illness have not been studied in depth yet.
Data from the King’s College London symptom tracking app shows that up to 500,000 people in the UK are currently suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.
That’s according to the founder of the Long Covid Support Group, Claire Hastie, who said the lasting effects of Covid-19 had left her wheelchair-bound after being diagnosed in March.
A survey recently found a third of British doctors have treated patients with long term Covid-19 symptoms, including chronic fatigue and anosmia.
The difference led a scientific paper published in Nature in July to conclude that those aged 80 and over are more than a hundred times more likely to die from the virus than patients aged 40 and below.
Despite the gap in risk of death, however, there have been warnings over long Covid, or where symptoms persist after the disease subsides, which could already affect more than 60,000 people in the UK.
On Wednesday MPs called on the Government to address this problem, and admit that it exists, stating they had heard moving statements from those who had recovered but still suffered from fatigue, heart palpitations and breathing difficulties.
Layla Moran, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus said Westminster must commit further resources to investigating and tackling the problem.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, she said as the number of people suffering long Covid increases the situation will become ‘more and more urgent’.
‘In August, we heard from people living with long Covid and hundreds more sufferers admitted written evidence to our inquiry.
‘Their testimonials were incredibly moving and concerning. What was clear was that we needed to make some urgent recommendations to the Prime Minister; the health, wellbeing and employment arrangements for those living with long Covid remain unaddressed.
‘And as the number of people with long Covid grows, the situation gets more and more urgent.’
One of the victims was Claire Hastie, who is the founder of the Long Covid Support Group on Facebook.
She described how she used to cycle 13 miles to work but since her Covid-19 diagnosis in March, can no longer walk 13 metres and is now largely confined to a wheelchair with her children providing much of her care.
Dr Jake Suett, a staff grade doctor in anaesthetics and intensive care medicine who also suffers from long Covid, said that since catching the disease he has no longer being able to do 12-hour shifts in intensive care.
‘And now a flight of stairs or the food shop is about what I can manage before I have to stop… if I’m on my feet then shortness of breath comes back, chest pain comes back.’
SAGE minutes have also revealed that the group considered a ‘segmentation and protection strategy’, where vulnerable parts of society are placed into lockdown to avoid a surge in deaths from the disease.
The strategy, presented to the group by Professor Mark Whoolhouse, from the University of Edinburgh, would use an algorithm to identify those most at risk by accounting for age, ethnicity and health conditions.
They would be placed into lockdown, where they are trusted to avoid high risk locations and interactions, alongside a designated carer. This would allow parts of society, such as those who are healthy and of working age, to continue to contribute to the economy.
But SAGE did not advise that the Government follows this strategy, citing ethical concerns. Professor Woolhouse wrote: ‘Segmentation and protection raises ethical questions as some measures are targeted at subsets of the population.
‘However, lockdown also raises ethical questions as the benefits are felt mainly by those same subsets of the population. It needs to be understood that there are no easy options available.’
The UK recorded a further 6,874 cases of coronavirus yesterday, as the outbreak continues to gather speed.
As cases mount, new lockdown measures have been announced for Leeds, Wigan, Stockport and Blackpool in England, and Llanelli, Cardiff and Swansea in Wales.
When the rules come in to force as many as 17million people in the UK will be living under tightened coronavirus restrictions.