A brief, intense shutdown would give the U.S. a second chance against the virus

Nobody wants to return to the full-scale open-ended shutdowns of the early days of the pandemic. And yet muddling forward is not working. As a compromise, some European leaders have embraced the idea of “circuit breakers” — fairly intense closures lasting a limited time — that would interrupt viral spread and bring case counts down without the long-lasting social and economic pain of extended lockdowns. Britain’s Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, has called for a circuit-breaker of two to three weeks, for example, to prevent a “sleepwalk into … a bleak winter.” Circuit breakers can be one-off interventions or regular occurrences (say, a three-week “reset” every two months).

The case for circuit breakers rests in part on the failures of our current approach. Phased reopenings aim to allow as much activity as possible, consistent with keeping cases at controlled levels through social distancing, masking and other restrictions. But they have a number of disadvantages in practice. First, they are hard to maintain over extended periods as compliance fatigue sets in, standards relax — and cases tick up. Furthermore, disparities in infection rates, both between and within states, make sacrifice inefficient. Many towns and subpopulations have already sacrificed more than enough to eliminate internal spread, but a constant threat of outside reinfection prevents them from relaxing and enjoying their triumph.

The underlying idea of the circuit breaker approach makes intuitive sense: After cutting oxygen off from a fire to reduce it to embers, for instance, restoring airflow intermittently doesn’t produce large flames. But add a steady continuous oxygen supply, even at a low level, and the blaze quickly rages out of control.

One study making use of epidemiological models — as yet, not peer-reviewed — found that a two-week circuit breaker would halve the number of deaths in the United Kingdom between now and the end of the year. And our own preliminary research suggests that if society wants to allow a certain amount of social and economic activity, doing so within select windows, followed by short-term shutdowns, will lead to fewer cases than allowing the same amount of activity to occur across unbroken stretches of time.

Using mathematical techniques, our work explored questions like this one: Suppose a town wishes to allow 1,000 small but risky activities like haircuts, ballgames, academic classes and small social gatherings over the course of a month. Is it better to put all the activities in one half of the month or space them out evenly? The mathematical answer is that concentrated sacrifice, followed by a period of relative openness, beats sacrifice that is spread out consistently over time. The size of the impact depends on many factors, but a typical analysis finds that 10 to 20 percent more activity might be possible (for the same amount of disease spread) when the activity is more concentrated.

Of course, not all activities can be shifted in time, so necessary events like urgent medical procedures would continue during a circuit-breaker shutdown. Additionally, when a month of activity

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‘Little chance’ coronavirus will be ‘eradicated,’ UK advisor reportedly says

A British scientist on the U.K. government’s coronavirus advisory panel warned during a meeting with lawmakers Wednesday that there’s “very little chance” the virus will be “eradicated”, Reuters reported. John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, added that a vaccine would likely improve the situation, but not eliminate the problem.

“We are going to have to live with this virus forevermore,” Edmunds said, according to Reuters. “There is very little chance that’s going to become eradicated.”

As of Wednesday, the U.K. had seen over 765,000 coronavirus cases and more than 44,000 deaths due to the pandemic. This week, the government announced a human challenge trial that will infect healthy people with the virus in hopes of speeding up vaccine development.


“We are doing everything we can to fight coronavirus, including backing our best and brightest scientists and researchers in their hunt for a safe and effective vaccine,” Business Secretary Alok Sharma said in a press release announcing the trial. “The funding announced today for these ground-breaking but carefully controlled studies marks an important step in building on our understanding of the virus and accelerating the development of our most promising vaccines which will ultimately help in beginning our return to normal life.”

And while Edmunds is hopeful that a vaccine will become available in the coming months, he told lawmakers the time to prepare is now.

“If vaccines are just around the corner then, in my view, we should try and keep the incidence as low as we can now because we will be able to use [the] vaccine in the not too distant future,” he reportedly told lawmakers.


He applauded the government’s strategy of investing in different companies in the midst of developing vaccines but cautioned that supply will likely first go to the vulnerable and frontline workers.

Vaccine deployment has become a hot topic in governments all over the world, especially as several leading candidates will require temperature-controlled storage and personnel trained to administer it.

At least one expert has cautioned that healthy young people may not have a vaccine made available to them until 2022.


“People tend to think, ‘Ah, on the first of January or the first of April I’m going to get the vaccine and then things will be back to normal,’” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, said last week. “I think most people agree that the people at highest risk of both transmission, getting the disease and getting sick from it are health care workers, frontline workers and then the elderly and the vulnerable.”


She added that she expects a lot of guidance about how vaccines will be delivered throughout the world’s health systems to come out in the near future.

“A healthy young person might have to wait until 2022 to get a

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There’s a slim chance a COVID-19 vaccine may be ready by Christmas, says chair of U.K. Vaccine Taskforce

With so much on the line in the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, it was bound to get ugly.

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took aim at the MHRA, Britain’s version of the FDA, saying it’s “not on par with ours,” the chair of the U.K.’s Vaccine Taskforce had to call her out.

“With great respect to Nancy Pelosi, I just don’t think she’s correct,” said Kate Bingham. “I think the MHRA standards for safety and efficacy and our track record of robust evaluation as a regulator is world class. So I just don’t think she is right to say that the FDA standards are held to a higher standard than those of the MHRA.”

Pelosi’s comments may be a preemptive in case President Trump plans on invoking emergency powers to greenlight a vaccine, saying “if Boris Johnson decides he’s going to approve a drug and this president embraces that, that’s the concern I have.”

But it underlines the tensions even between traditional allies as several vaccine candidates get closer to reality.

Bingham said there is a slim chance there may be a vaccine by Christmas. 

“There is a slim chance,” she said. “I think it’s more likely that it’ll be in early next year.”

That optimism comes with caveats. Bingham said it’s not a one-size-fits-all, or a one-and-done. “So I think we’re going to have to find vaccines that will provide as much protection as possible, and then we’re likely to have to give booster vaccines, much like, again, a flu shot.”  

She said initial recipients will be those who need it most: the elderly, the vulnerable and health care workers.

A vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca continues to be among the frontrunners in the U.K., but it has fallen behind in the United States, where clinical trials remain on pause under FDA orders.

Pfizer has been the most aggressive in its timeline, but the company has said it has no intention of applying for emergency authorization before the end of November, taking itself out of the running in President Trump’s promise a vaccine will be ready before Election Day.

The final stretch of this race may ultimately come down to the regulators.

“As soon as they’ve got the data, they can file with the regulatory authorities around the world. And then there will be a race between the regulatory authorities as to who approves. Who will be quicker? I have no idea,” said Bingham. “What I do know is that I think it’s unlikely that the MHRA will be subject to political pressure and certainly as reported in the press, that may not be always the case in the States.” 

But she added: “I don’t think any amount of political pressure will affect what the FDA actually does and what the vaccine companies do, because there is a very clear commitment to safety and efficacy. And it’s not in anybody’s interest to approve a vaccine that isn’t safe and efficacious and that

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