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General Release From Lockdown Would Put Older Groups At ‘Extreme Risk’

By David Saunders | UPDATED: 10:28, 04 May 2020

Warwick researchers Andrew Oswald and Nick Powdthavee point out the extreme dangers from any general kind of release from lockdown.

They present more detailed modelling on the fatality risks faced by different age groups.

Based on their analysis of data from China, Italy and the UK, the researchers warn that in any general exit strategy from lockdown, fatalities among 50-year olds would be twenty times higher than among 20-year olds, and fatalities among 60-year olds would be around fifty times as great as among those in their early twenties.

A rolling age-release strategy where restrictions are lifted sequentially by age beginning with the youngest adults would, it is argued, be the safest way forward.

The new briefing paper, Age, death risk and the design of an exit strategy – a guide for policymakers and for citizens who want to stay alive, sets out five key benefits of such a rolling release policy:-

  1. It recognizes that we cannot wait indefinitely to reopen the economy;

  2. It is the safest way to do that before a vaccine is available;

  3. It is the least likely strategy to require that people will have later to be painfully recalled into further rounds of lockdown, because in principle the young should be able to stay out once released;

  4. It usefully plays for time as researchers work on a vaccine;

  5. It targets the group currently the hardest-hit financially.

Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics and Behavioural Science at the University of Warwick, said: “People older than 50 do not realise the danger they are about to be in.  Our age-risk graphs need to be understood by everyone.  They show very clearly that younger people are at far less risk of dying from COVID-19 than older citizens.

“Any lockdown release policy that does not design itself around this “age gradient” in human coronavirus risk will have dangerous consequences.

“We hope that our analysis will be helpful to those policymakers reviewing options for lifting the lockdown, and also for citizens who wish to better understand their personal risk to make informed choices about what to do – and what not to do.”

Strategies for building public support for a rolling release could include clear communication about the rationale for the strategy, and online resources to help people understand their own personal risk profiles.

Nick Powdthavee, Professor of Behavioural Economics at Warwick Business School, said: “We believe that an age-based strategy along the lines we describe has the potential to strike the right balance between epidemiology and economics.

“Far from being left on the shelf, older workers can play a vital role as supervisors and mentors using the communication technologies which have come to the fore during lockdown.”