Coronavirus: ‘Uncontrolled epidemic’ in young people would have ‘dire consequences for NHS’, SAGE warns

Allowing an “uncontrolled epidemic” in young people – while subjecting the over-60s to strict coronavirus restrictions – would have “dire consequences for the NHS”, the government’s scientific advisers have warned.

Newly-released documents show the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said that such a strategy was “highly likely to create an enormous burden of COVID-19 hospitalisations”.

It would also cause “large numbers of COVID-19 deaths and the knock-on result of non-COVID-19 deaths across all age groups”, the experts said.

The comments were included in a note produced for ministers on 15 October which was published by the government on Friday.

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In the document, SAGE considered a strategy of implementing further restrictions on older people, or those identified as vulnerable, while not attempting to restrain coronavirus transmission in younger age groups.

They concluded that such a strategy “would not be viable” because it would not be possible to prevent the virus spreading from younger people to older people.

The experts said that a “very large proportion of the population would need to withdraw from daily life for many months, which would have profound negative effect on them”.

“An uncontrolled epidemic in younger age groups would have dire consequences for the NHS as well as having unknown long term effects in those infected,” SAGE said.

It is also not known if those who survive COVID-19 infection have long-term immunity, SAGE added.

“Even if high levels of immunity could be achieved with in the younger age group, it is almost certain that a further epidemic wave in older people would happen occur once segmentation ended,” it said.

SAGE added: “Furthermore, while the profile of longer-term consequences of contracting COVID-19 are unclear, there is emerging evidence that ‘long COVID’ is a problem for some people who do not require hospitalisation.”

The experts warned that “no country has managed to contain their epidemic within lower risk age groups”.

They also said that “despite measures to shield the vulnerable in spring, COVID-19 was involved in the death of 15,646 people in care home residents up to 2 October”.

Professor James Naismith, head of Oxford University’s Rosalind Franklin Institute, said he supported the SAGE analysis and “strongly” urged the government not to pursue a segmentation strategy.

“Millions of people including key workers would have to isolate, the consequences for them and the rest of us would be severe,” he said.

“Since multi-generational households would have to be isolated, this would disproportionately burden the non-white population.

“As the document says there is no evidence for herd immunity to SARS-CoV-2.”

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