Shielding over-50s from coronavirus 'impractical and unethical', says public health expert

Ross McGuinness
·3-min read
 An elderly couple wearing face masks walk along the park. People wear a variety of facemasks outdoors in Cambridge, although they are only mandatory on public transport and inside shops and public spaces at the moment in the UK. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The government's shielding advice in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland came to an end at the weekend (PA)

Shielding the over-50s from the spread of coronavirus is “impractical”, a health expert has said.

Devi Sridhar, professor and chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh and an adviser to Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, also said such a measure was “unethical”.

Her comments came after the government’s shielding advice came to an end on Saturday, meaning 2.2 million people with underlying severe health conditions were told they could leave their homes and return to work.

But it was reported on Sunday that it is considering the drastic option of telling people aged between 50 and 70 to stay at home to avoid another nationwide lockdown, if there is a second wave of COVID-19.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 24:  Author and Professor at the University of Edinburgh Devi Sridhar attends a photocall during the annual Edinburgh International Book Festival at Charlotte Square Gardens on August 24, 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images)
Professor Devi Sridhar from the University of Edinburgh has said shielding the over-50s is "impractical and unethical" (Getty Images)

On Sunday, Prof Sridhar wrote on Twitter: “Headlines coming full-circle back to ‘shielding’ over 50s today.

“This has been tried before and is impractical and unethical.

“Also have under 50s given their informed consent to gamble with their health given possible long-term health problems?”

She posted an article she wrote for The Guardian in May in which she said shielding people from the virus was “almost impossible”.

She added in a follow-up tweet: “And if we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that wealth is the best shielding strategy.”

On Monday, junior business minister Nadhim Zahawi described reports that there would be age-related measures coming in at some point as “speculation” and “inaccurate”.

It was reported at the weekend that Boris Johnson had asked officials to draw up new social distancing measures to avoid a second nationwide lockdown.

According to the Sunday Times, these include giving those aged 50 to 70 “personalised risk ratings”, restricting travel beyond the M25 for those living in London, and not letting people stay at others’ houses.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick cast doubt on the report of so-called “nuclear” options under consideration for avoiding a second national lockdown, calling it “just speculation”.

More than 2 million people shielding against COVID-19 in most of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland can now leave their homes, after being advised not to do so back in March.

Conservative MP Nadim Zahawi talks to the media in Westminster, London, as Tory MPs hold a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Theresa May.
Junior business minister Nadhim Zahawi said reports of new age-related shielding measures were "inaccurate" (PA)

In Wales, the shielding advice remains in place until 16 August.

Meanwhile, tests that can detect coronavirus and flu within 90 minutes are to be rolled out at hospitals, care homes and labs from next week. Zahawi hinted that the government is considering using the new swab and DNA tests in schools, which are scheduled to reopen on 1 September.

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