Herd immunity strategy against Covid-19 is ‘not an option’ says WHO

Frontline NHS workers outside Downing Street in August depict Tory government ministers clapping with blood on their hands

The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned against the idea that herd immunity might be a realistic strategy to stop the coronavirus pandemic, calling such proposals ‘unethical’ and ‘not an option’.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Monday: ‘There has been some discussion recently about the concept of reaching so-called “herd immunity” by letting the virus spread.
‘Herd immunity is a concept used for vaccination, in which a population can be protected from a certain virus if a threshold of vaccination is reached.
‘For example, herd immunity against measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated.
‘The remaining 5% will be protected by the fact that measles will not spread among those who are vaccinated.
‘For polio, the threshold is about 80%.
‘In other words, herd immunity is achieved by protecting people from a virus, not by exposing them to it.
‘Never in the history of public health has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak, let alone a pandemic.
‘It is scientifically and ethically problematic.
‘First, we don’t know enough about immunity to Covid-19.
‘Most people who are infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 develop an immune response within the first few weeks, but we don’t know how strong or lasting that immune response is, or how it differs for different people.
‘We have some clues, but we don’t have the complete picture.
‘There have also been some examples of people infected with Covid-19 being infected for a second time.
‘Secondly, the vast majority of people in most countries remain susceptible to this virus.
‘Seroprevalence surveys suggest that in most countries, less than 10% of the population have been infected with the Covid-19 virus.
‘Letting the virus circulate unchecked therefore means allowing unnecessary infections, suffering and death.
‘And although older people and those with underlying conditions are most at risk of severe disease and death, they are not the only ones at risk. People of all ages have died.
‘Thirdly, we’re only beginning to understand the long-term health impacts among people with Covid-19.
‘I have met with patient groups suffering with what is now being described as “Long Covid” to understand their suffering and needs so we can advance research and rehabilitation.
‘Allowing a dangerous virus that we don’t fully understand to run free is simply unethical. It’s not an option.’
The WHO director noted an increase in infections in Europe.
There has been a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in France.
French President Emmanuel Macron met senior cabinet ministers on Tuesday to discuss possible further measures to fight the pandemic.
The French president was set to deliver a televised address on Wednesday on possible means to stem a second wave in the country.
The meeting came a day after coronavirus intensive care treatments exceeded a May 27 peak as the French government, like neighbouring Spain and Britain’s Tory government, grapples with how to slow the virus’s spread and ease pressure on a once-again strained healthcare system, while keeping France’s 2.3 trillion euro ($2.71 trillion) capitalist economy open.
French government minister Marlène Schiappa said on Tuesday the government could not rule out imposing a curfew on cities such as Paris to curb the spread of the pandemic.
When asked about the possibility of imposing a curfew, Schiappa told LCI television: ‘Everything is being examined. Nothing can be excluded.’
Her statement echoed Prime Minister Jean Castex’s comments on Monday that local lockdowns across France could not be ruled out.
The PM’s remarks came as the southern French cities of Toulouse and Montpellier this week joined Paris, Marseille and four other cities in maximum alert status to fight back the coronavirus as cases in France hit a record level over last weekend.
The prefecture of Montpellier, in the south, announced a maximum alert status for the city and surrounding towns starting on Tuesday in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Measures include the closing of cafés and bars.
The southwest city of Toulouse was doing likewise following meetings between mayors of surrounding towns and the prefect, the local state authority.
Soaring infections and increased hospitalisations put four other cities on the maximum alert list last Saturday: Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne in the southeast and Lille in the north.
The number of people being treated in French intensive care units for Covid-19 exceeded 1,500 on Monday for the first time since May 27, authorities said.
The new figure of 1,539 is still almost five times lower than an April 8 high of 7,148 but also four times higher than a July 31 low of 371.

  • French trade unions are lodging an appeal tomorrow, 16 October, against the ‘new law enforcement scheme (which) confirms a repressive policy’.

On September 17, the government published the new national law enforcement plan (SNMO), which endorses the use of projectile-launching LBD 40s and de-encircling grenades as well as the trap technique.
The current Swiss-made model, LBD 40, was adopted by the French police back in 2009. It shoots 40mm (1.6-inch) rubber or foam slugs at a speed of up to 100 metres per second. It can also launch tear gas and stun grenades.
This pattern infringes the right to demonstrate but also to inform.
The CGT and the National Syndicate of CGT Journalists (SNJ-CGT) lodged an urgent appeal with the Council of State.
Maintenance of LBD40 and de-encirclement grenades, trap technique … the new law enforcement plan, published on September 17, confirms the will of the Ministry of the Interior to extend a doctrine of escalation of violence, whose death toll now stands at 4 dead, 344 head injuries, 81 upper limb injuries, 29 bruised and 5 torn hands, according to figures published by journalist David Dufresne on his site ‘Allo Place Beauvau’.
Since 2018, it has listed 961 reports of police violence, mainly in demonstrations.
This police violence has been the subject of several investigations and alerts by the Defender of Rights, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, journalists’ organisations and the Council of Europe. In vain.
Added to this is judicial repression.
As the NGO Amnesty International reminds us, the demonstrators of the yellow vests movement were particularly repressed by the police and the judiciary.
Between November 2018 and July 2019, 11,203 of them were taken into police custody.
More than half, or 5,962 protesters, were released without prosecution.
The vague definition of the offense of contempt – ‘any writing, any image or any word which undermines the dignity or respect due to a public office’ – has opened the way to a number of arbitrary prosecutions.
In 2019, 20,280 people were found guilty of ‘insulting persons holding public authority’, including in the context of demonstrations, and in some cases for simple slogans.
Adopted without consultation and in contrast to the recommendations which advocate the easing of tensions and the reestablishment of trust between the police and the citizens, the SNMN infringes on the fundamental freedom to demonstrate, but also to inform.
Among the measures of the plan, the designation, during the demonstrations, of a referent officer and the establishment of an accreditation ‘with the authorities’ for the journalists ‘holders of a press card’ operates a sorting among journalists that cover protests.
Worse still, journalists see themselves associated, without distinction, with the demonstrators, since they are reminded that they would commit an offence, in the event of non-dispersion after summons. Should we remember that without the presence of a journalist in demonstrations, police violence would have remained invisible in the eyes of society?
Faced with these attacks on fundamental public freedoms, the CGT and the SNJ-CGT filed an urgent appeal before the Council of State. At the hearing scheduled for October 16, 2020, the latter will also examine the appeal filed by the SNJ (national union of journalists, affiliated with Solidaires) and the League of Human Rights (LDH).