ALTHOUGH the ‘Great Barrington Declaration’ has been widely shared on social media and has been mentioned on BBC News (not too fairly, according to some tweeters) and on Channel Four News (which provided a platform for critics to slam it as ‘unscientific’), many people and at least some of our readers may not yet be aware of it.
The declaration, named after Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where the first signatories put their names to it, is the opinion of a significant number of infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists from around the world who have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing Covid-19 policies, and who are recommending an alternative approach called ‘focused protection’. They believe – as we do – that the current measures are disproportionate and highly damaging. They believe that the most compassionate approach, balancing the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity – the best protection for the community – is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live normally. This will build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.
You can read the full statement here.
The concept of focused protection for the old has invited controversy and the criticism of some lockdown sceptics regarding what could be interpreted as an authoritarian use of the word ‘allow’, and specifically in reference to the retired. Neil Clark, for one, will not be signing it:
These are the ‘moot’ sentences:
‘Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals. Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal.’
Much depends on the definition of ‘vulnerable’ and on whether those in the older age group are ‘allowed’ to decide that for themselves. Words like ‘should’ and ‘allow’ are tricky and the lead signatories perhaps should clarify they do not mean locking away older people who are not risk averse, and who value human contact above what are still arbitrary public health edicts.
It is hard, however, to disagree that the public health response should focus on the most vulnerable, or with the recommendation that nursing homes (I assume residential care homes are included) should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent testing of other staff and all visitors, and that staff rotation should be minimised.
I would like to have seen a further comment on the balance between emotional needs and the physical health of care-home residents and, bar sickness, a policy of unrestricted visits by family and close friends.
On balance it is an important initiative insofar as it creates scope for some face-saving on the part of the Government. With an Opposition in place that is also wedded to the mantra of defeating Covid with ever harsher and longer restrictions, if it could allow the Government to climb down and change to this policy, it would be far better than nothing.
On that basis – although I too have my worries about a ‘two-tier’ policy, perfect can be the enemy of the good – I have signed it.
It is a potential game-changer, it is realistic politically and very badly needed.