Coronavirus: Scientific opinion divided on how cautious at-risk age groups should be

It’s well-known that the risk of dying from coronavirus increases greatly with age, but opinion is divided on what measures should be taken to protect people over the age of 60.

Britons in this age group should reconsider attending mass gatherings such as sporting events and concerts amid the coronavirus spread, according to an expert on national disease responses.

But that claim is strenuously refuted by a cellular microbiology professor, who says there is not enough evidence to warrant these measures.

And the government’s chief medical adviser has not given this advice, saying that pensioners currently do not need to self-isolate.

The official advice is that those in at-risk age groups should seek medical attention if they show symptoms and wash their hands often. People should also check on their elderly loved ones regularly.

Research has shown that people over the age of 60 make up roughly more than 80% of coronavirus deaths in China.

A major study in the Journal of the American Medical Association analysed data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and calculated the following mortality rates via age, from more than 77,000 cases:

  • 10-19: 0.2%
  • 20-29: 0.2%
  • 30-39: 0.2%
  • 40-49: 0.4%
  • 50-59: 1.3%
  • 60-69: 3.6%
  • 70-79: 8%
  • 80 and older: 14.8%

This “frightening” data released last month had not hit home for the UK public, one disease control consultant told Sky News.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, from the University of Exeter, has devised both national and international communicable disease control action plans.

He said the government was not doing enough to try to protect those above the age of 60 from coronavirus – and should be placing stronger restrictions such as advising them against going to crowded public places.

“I am not saying they should self-isolate but I am saying they should think about how many people they’re around in public, because a 4% risk is unbelievable – especially when you compare that the risk of dying from influenza is 0.8% for any age group.”

“As a scientist my eternal regret would be not enough people are being told that they could get seriously ill – particularity if they have a co-existing medical condition.”

He said the government should be taking a more “targeted approach” based on age groups.

But Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, strongly disagrees.

He said health authorities “had not been shy” in informing the public that people become more susceptible to contracting and dying from the disease with age, especially if they had respiratory illnesses.

“This is potentially fear mongering,” he said.

“My parents are in their sixties and I would not advise them not to go to public events.”

“Maybe it will change when the infection gets more commonplace, but right now in the UK… you need to meet 160,000 people before you meet someone with coronavirus.”

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