COVID-19 is pandemic, and likely to become endemic, possibly returning with greater virulence. Outlining potential public health actions, including hygiene measures, social distancing and face masks, and realistic future advances, this paper focuses on the consequences of taking no public health action; the role of natural changes such as weather; the adverse public health consequences of lockdowns; testing for surveillance and research purposes; testing to identify cases and contacts, including the role of antibody tests; the public health value of treatments; mobilising people who have recovered; population (a synonym for herd) immunity through vaccination and through natural infection; involving the entire population; and the need for public debate. Until there is a vaccine, population immunity is going to occur only from infection. Allowing infection in those at very low risk while making it safer for them and wider society needs consideration but is currently taboo. About 40–50% population immunity is sufficient to suppress an infection with a reproduction number of about 1 or slightly more. Importantly, in children and young people COVID-19 is currently rarely fatal, roughly comparable with influenza. The balance between the damage caused by COVID-19 and that caused by lockdowns needs quantifying. Public debate, including on population immunity, informed by epidemiological data, is now urgent.


Copyright © 2020 The Author(s) Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active. Under a Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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Bhopal, R. 2020, 'COVID-19 zugzwang: Potential public health moves towards population (herd) immunity', Public Health in Practice, 1, article no: 100031. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.puhip.2020.100031

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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