Criticizing the idea of lockdowns, a group of top scientists on Wednesday controversially called for tackling the coronavirus pandemic through a strategy known as herd immunity.

The Great Barrington declaration endorsing the disputed strategy was signed by top experts from UK universities including Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh, as well as US universities including Harvard and Stanford.

The declaration argued: “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.”

It criticized the idea of lockdowns, saying they had “devastating effects on short and long-term public health.”

These effects included disrupted routine care such as lower levels of vaccination for children and cancer screenings, and worsening mental health, with the disadvantaged bearing the brunt of these negative consequences, said the declaration.

Those least in danger, particularly the young, should “immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,” it said.

However, critics pointed to the long-term health consequences of contracting coronavirus, known as “long COVID” that affects the young as well as the old.

Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at Yale University, tweeted that herd immunity amounted to “culling the herd of the sick and disabled. It’s grotesque.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reportedly pursuing the strategy in the UK earlier this year before advisors told him how many millions of people would have to die before herd immunity kicked in.

What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from an infectious disease that occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to the infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.

Immune individuals are unlikely to contribute to disease transmission, disrupting chains of infection, which stops or slows the spread of the disease.

The greater the proportion of immune individuals in a community, the smaller the probability that non-immune individuals will come into contact with an infectious individual.

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