• Research reveals dangers of releasing older people from lockdown too soon.
  • Deaths among 60 year-olds would be 50 times higher than those in early 20s.
  • Briefing paper recommends releasing young from lockdown first for safety.
  • Young could restart economy while older workers support from home.

The extreme danger to older people in the event of a general release from lockdown has been highlighted by new research.

Professor Nick Powdthavee, from Warwick Business School, and Professor Andrew Oswald, from Warwick University, previously put forward an exit strategy based on releasing young adults first.

They have now modelled the fatality risks faced by different age groups if they are released from lockdown to further the debate about how to balance the need to re-open the economy with the requirement to protect lives.

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

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

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 recognises 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 lockdown
  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 the lockdown.”

Nick Powdthavee is Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School. He teaches the Economics of Wellbeing on the Distance Learning MBA.

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