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Professor Sunetra Gupta: the epidemic is on its way out

We spoke to Sunetra Gupta, Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology at the University of Oxford and head of the team that released a study in March which speculated that as much as 50% of the population may already have been infected and the true Infection Fatality Rate could be as low as 0.1%. In her first major interview since the Oxford study was published, she goes further by arguing that Covid-19 has already passed through the population and is now on its way out.

She said:

On antibodies:

• Many of the antibody tests are “extremely unreliable” • They do not indicate the true level of exposure or level of immunity • “Different countries have had different lockdown policies, and yet what we’ve observed is almost a uniform pattern of behaviour”

• “Much of the driving force was due to the build-up of immunity” On IFR: • “Infection Fatality Rate is less than 1 in 1000 and probably closer to 1 in 10,000.”

• That would be somewhere between 0.1% and 0.01% On lockdown policy: • Referring to the Imperial model: “Should we act on a possible worst case scenario, given the costs of lockdown? It seems to me that given that the costs of lockdown are mounting that case is becoming more and more fragile”

• Recommends “a more rapid exit from lockdown based more on certain heuristics, like who is dying and what is happening to the death rates” On the UK Government response: • “We might have done better by doing nothing at all, or at least by doing something different, which would have been to pay attention to protecting the vulnerable” On the R rate:

• It is “principally dependent on how many people are immune” and we don’t have that information.

• Deaths are the only reliable measure.

On New York:

• “When you have pockets of vulnerable people it might rip through those pockets in a way that it wouldn’t if the vulnerable people were more scattered within the general population.” On social distancing:

• “Remaining in a state of lockdown is extremely dangerous”

• “We used to live in a state approximating lockdown 100 years ago, and that was what created the conditions for the Spanish Flu to come in and kill 50m people.”

On next steps:

• “It is very dangerous to talk about lockdown without recognising the enormous costs that it has on other vulnerable sectors in the population”

• It is a “strong possibility” that if we return to full normal tomorrow — pubs, nightclubs, festivals — we would be fine.

On the politics of Covid:

• “There is a sort of libertarian argument for the release of lockdown, and I think it is unfortunate that those of us who feel we should think differently about lockdown”

• “The truth is that lockdown is a luxury, and it’s a luxury that the middle classes are enjoying and higher income countries are enjoying at the expense of the poor, the vulnerable and less developed countries.”

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