The recent stiffening of anti-COVID-19 precautions by Western governments came about following the publication of a dire report by the Imperial College London on March 16. The report warned that the U.S. could expect a potential 2.2 million fatalities if the spread of the coronavirus and new cases were not suppressed. Britain could expect 510,000 deaths and both countries would see an infection rate of 81 percent over the course of the pandemic.
The research was headed up by Neil Ferguson, a well-regarded professor of epidemiology who has worked on different epidemics during his career.
Without mitigation and suppression efforts, the report suggested that the mortality rate in the U.S. would begin to spike in the latter part of April, peak one month later and then rapidly decrease in by approximately July 20. This would lag behind Great Britain due to the size of the U.S. and variability in regions. For an uncontrolled epidemic, the study predicted that “critical care bed capacity in both countries would be exceeded by the second week of April with an eventual peak in ICU or critical care bed demand that is over 30 times greater than the maximum supply in both countries.” Without social distancing or other suppression policies, each infected person would infect 2.4 others (R factor).
The study considered the predicted effects of various non-pharmaceutical intervention scenarios: case isolation where patients stay at home for seven days; voluntary home quarantine where all household members remain at home for 14 days following identification of a symptomatic case; social distancing of those over 70 years of age; social distancing of the entire population; and closure of schools and universities. The study’s authors presumed that the policies would remain in place for three months except for social distancing for those over 70 would last one month longer while suppression strategies would be in force for five months or longer.
Adopted quickly, only by implementing all measures would the R factor be reduced to 1 or below and drive the surge of critical care bed needs below maximum capacity. However, once interventions are relaxed, infections would begin to rise again in September “due to lesser build-up of herd immunity.” Researchers predicted that while certain suppression strategies could be relaxed for certain periods of time, the policies would “need to be maintained until large stocks of vaccine are available to immunize the population – which could be 18 months or more.”
The White House was given an early copy of the report and accordingly stiffened its policies governing mitigation and suppression. The government released a 100-page COVID-19 strategy plan on March 13 that incorporated many of the conclusions of the Imperial College London report. To view the U.S. government response plan, go to bit.ly/38Zbifq. To read the ICL report, go to bit.ly/2IWGWjc.