New study confirms advice given to the UK government about school closures

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Several expert predictions ahead of the UK lockdown in March are confirmed in a detailed re-analysis of the data released today by the BMJ.

A report by researchers at Imperial College London is said to be the main evidence behind the lockdown decisions taken by the UK government in March 2020.

The Imperial College report was based on a detailed model of interactions between people in Britain. The model predicted how the virus would spread, how the NHS would be affected, and how many would die in different scenarios.

Now researchers from the University of Edinburgh have re-analyzed the results of this report using updated data in a detailed simulation model (“COVIDSim”).

The new analysis confirms that information used by the SAGE Advisory Committee to advise on the lockdown showed that overall school closings would lead to more COVID-19 deaths than no school closings, and that social distancing only occurred in the 70s and over COVID would be more effective in reducing -19 deaths than general social distancing.

It is also confirmed that none of the proposed mitigation strategies modeled in the original report, aside from the effective implementation of a vaccine, would bring the total projected number of COVID-19 deaths in the UK below 200,000, more than three times the current figure.

Their analysis suggests that the interventions conducted in March produced the best possible outcome in terms of reducing peak demand for ICU beds, but also prolonged the epidemic, leading to longer-term COVID-19 deaths unless an effective vaccination program is implemented.

It confirms that adding school and university closings to other measures (case isolation, household quarantine and social distancing for people over 70) would increase the total number of COVID-19 deaths compared to no closings.

It supports the projection that while general social distancing would reduce the number of COVID-19 cases, it would increase the total number of deaths compared to social distancing just over the age of 70. This is because COVID-19 deaths are heavily targeted towards older age groups.

Over 97% of COVID deaths occur in over 65 years of age, compared to 5% for the Spanish flu. As such, they conclude that containing a COVID-19 epidemic “requires a different strategy than an influenza epidemic, with a greater focus on protecting the elderly and the vulnerable”.

The model clearly predicts a second wave, which initially grows more slowly but becomes larger than the first unless the interventions are re-implemented. The researchers emphasize that the data currently available are insufficient to reliably predict exactly where localized peaks will occur.

However, they note that UK policy advice has focused on reducing the total number of COVID-19 cases rather than the number of deaths. Death minimization strategies “include focusing stricter social distancing measures on nursing homes where people are likely to die rather than schools where they will not die.”

In all mitigation scenarios, epidemics modeled with COVIDSim will eventually end with widespread infection and immunity, and the final death toll will depend primarily on the age distribution of those infected rather than the total, they write.

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More information:
Special Report: Impact of School Closures on Coronavirus Disease Mortality, BMJ (2020). DOI: 10.1136 / bmj.m3588 Provided by the British Medical Journal

Quote: New study confirms advice to the UK government on school closings (2020, October 7th), retrieved from on October 8, 2020 were

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