The UK’s current Covid-19 policy could be putting 7.3 million people aged between 60 and 69 at increased risk of severe illness and death, experts have warned.
In an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the scientists said data from countries such as China and Italy show those aged between 60 and 69 are also at high risk of complications and death from the novel coronavirus.
This risk is lower compared with those aged 70 years or older.
Professor Azeem Majeed, head of the department of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, said: “The UK’s policy is at variance with the World Health Organisation, which states that those above the age of 60 years are at the highest risk, requiring additional preventative measures.”
He added: “To reduce hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and death we recommend that those aged between 60 and 69 are particularly stringent when implementing public health measures such as social distancing and personal hygiene.”
The Government guidance suggests those aged 70 or older should be more rigorous in following social distancing measures, regardless of whether they have medical conditions or not.
Examples of these measures include avoiding face-to-face contact with family and friends as much as possible, and using telephone or online services to contact their GP or other essential services.
The guidance also applies to those under 70 who have underlying health conditions or a weakened immune system.
Although the lockdown imposed by the Government means everyone regardless of their age or health conditions is expected to follow the guidance on social distancing, Prof Majeed said people under 70 can still undertake activities like going to work and grocery shopping.
Prof Majeed, who co-authored the article with colleagues from Imperial College London and the University of Exeter, said case fatality rates for those aged 60-69 are 3.5% in Italy and 3.6% in China.
Other countries, including Switzerland and France, have encouraged those aged 65 and older to follow strict public health measures, the authors added.
Dr James Gill, an honorary clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School and locum GP, said one of the benefits of extending the isolation to those aged 60 and above is that it would lead to a further reduction in pressure on the NHS’s intensive care unit resources.
He added: “The risk of mortality from Covid-19 in the 60-69 years age group remains substantial, compared to younger members of the population, however it must be acknowledged people in their 60th decade have a mortality risk six times lower than those 70 years and older.
“Thus whilst it may be reasonable to question whether measures should be extended to those in the 60-70 years group, this should not cause significant concern for those people.”
Responding to the article, Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of National Infection Service at Public Health England, said: “England data shows that the groups most likely to die from Covid-19 are men and those over the age of 70.
“Sadly, two thirds of deaths have been in men and 79% of all deaths are among those aged 70 and over.”