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Reduction in social contact, without full restriction of social contact, creates an environment where the 'success' of a virus depends more on how infectious it is and less on how good it is at preserving the host.

Is this a fair assessment? Do these "lockdown"* measures result in more contagious strains? (*lockdown is a loose term it seems - what I mean are the restrictions where society is asked to do things like wear masks, avoid only certain types of shops, not others, etc).

I cannot easily find any research assessing the relationship between these lockdown measure, their level of implementation, and virus contagion/mortality.

If so, does this evolutionary pressure on the virus lead to more deadly strains? (Because, presumably, the criteria becomes more about contagion and rapid spread and less about preserving the host)

Is this what is happening as a result of social distancing policy today and is it something epidemiologists weigh up against the risks to the healthcare system of a freer policies?

EDIT/UPDATE: I realise that the downvotes are largely due to the way I posed the question and that there is a lot of political sensitivity here. Let me please assure you that my intentions are merely to find research and understand the real effect of lockdown. With no political bias. So to clarify:

I agree that successful isolation will cause the virus to die off. However, looking at society as a whole rather than at individuals, is it safe to say that the practical reality of lockdown is that face masks are worn incorrectly, with incorrect materials, for extended lengths of time beyond their applicability, that people don't fully self isolate but just to a certain extent, etc etc. It still seems to me the virus is given opportunities to replicate but only if they acclimatize to the tougher conditions. Is there any research around to refute or understand this claim?

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  • For reasons mentioned in this post and in How to Ask, we require prior research information when asking questions. Have you read anything which even partially backs your theory? Please help us to help you and edit your question to provide more information on what you have read on this subject, what made you ask this question, and any problems you are having understanding your research. This helps to provide an answer which will be more helpful. If you found nothing, what did you Google? – Chris Rogers Mar 2 at 9:31
  • @ChrisRogers Thank you for your polite response. Unfortunately, I have tried, and I do not see very much. In fact, epidemiological advice and rhetoric seems to be quite politicised. For example, people talk about comorbidities without really acknowledging that the obesity-related comorbidity correlation with covid could well be visceral ACE receptor site prevalence in the overweight. Technical discussions behind the scenes might be more matter of fact, but what is available publically seems to be quite watered down. – Frank Mar 2 at 10:18
  • @ChrisRogers I should also add, I am not looking for anything necessarily that backups the implied theory, but also anything that falsifies it. – Frank Mar 2 at 10:32
  • @ChrisRogers Actually, I have looked again and can find literally nothing on lockdown effect on virus transmissibility/mortality. – Frank Mar 2 at 15:01
  • @Fizz Sorry if the way i phrased the question offended you. I know in the USA it's all very poltical and a very touchy subject, but let me assure you I am genuinely interested in understanding what would seem intuitive to me, without any political bias. – Frank Mar 8 at 9:51
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I cannot easily find any research assessing the relationship between lockdowns and virus contagion/mortality.

Try looking at it backwards: what encourages mutations (some of which will render an organism more x (and/or y, and/or z) and some of which will render it less x (and/or y, and/or z). To mutate, an organism must reproduce in order to pass on a mutation. Look at the evolution of MRSA as a good example: all that was needed was reproduction; environmental pressure selected the successful.

Understanding this fundamental concept sheds light on the confusion you have.

Simply stated, if lockdowns decrease the chances of viral replication (which they do very well), they will also decrease the chances of viral mutations, whether that be for a less contagious/lethal virus (not a good candidate for responding well to environmental pressure) or a more contagious/lethal one.

Is this what is happening as a result of social distancing policy today and is it something epidemiologists weigh up against the risks to the healthcare system of a freer policies?

Nope, not at all. Because that's not how viruses become more successful.

Edited to add: Imagine a patient, J. Doe, early 60s, lives alone, leaves the house only to do monthly grocery shopping. During one of these outings, J. becomes infected with SARS-CoV 2. Early in the course of infection, a mutation occurs which increases the transmissibility of the virus by 50%. J., however, has mild symptoms only, and during a teleconference with a physician, J. is told to stay home and treat symptomatically. J. follows this advice, the infection runs its course, and the viruses die off. J. has avoided all contact with others and the newer, more transmissible virus had no where (else) to go.

Now imagine J. Dope, early 60s, lives alone, doesn't like it, so goes out a lot despite warnings. During one of these outings, J. becomes infected with SARS-CoV 2. Early in the course of infection, a mutation occurs which increases the transmissibility of the virus by 50%. J., however, has mild symptoms only, so doesn't alter social behaviors. J. sheds the newer, more transmissible virus everywhere, and suddenly, a spike in cases is seen in the area J. lives.

Which scenario is likely to increase the prevalence of the now more highly transmissible virus variant?

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  • Thank you. I agree that successful isolation will cause the virus to die off. However, looking at society as a whole rather than at individuals, is it safe to say that the practical reality of lockdown is that face masks are worn incorrectly, with incorrect materials, for extended lengths of time beyond their applicability, that people don't fully self isolate but just to a certain extent, etc etc. It still seems to me the virus is given opportunities to replicate but only if they acclimatize to the tougher conditions. In other words, what research actually backs up your hypothesis? – Frank Mar 8 at 9:55
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    I also agree wit @Fizz regarding the claim that "50% of vaccinated health workers are now testing positive for the British mutation..." is questionable. It is you who should be providing reliable sources for your claims. "The director told me himself" is not a reliable source to make such a claim. It flies in the face of the data collected so far. To Frank: "what research actually backs up your hypothesis?" So far, all of it. – anongoodnurse Mar 9 at 10:28
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    @Frank - "I want explicit links. And a less snooty, arrogant tone." That's a great example of irony. – anongoodnurse Mar 12 at 2:33
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    @Frank: it does look like the AZ vaccine produces lower titers against B 1.1.7 bioworld.com/articles/… That would probably allow more infections, albeit with still reduced symptoms. Still, it's not really the topic of this q, but it could be a good separate one. (Pfizer claimed no difference for theirs: biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.01.18.426984v1) – Fizz Mar 12 at 12:48
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    The Pfizer paper was actually published today science.sciencemag.org/content/371/6534/1152 The Science abstract says "slight but significant decrease in neutralization that was more apparent in participants under 55 years of age". The authors say "On the basis of experience from studying antibody correlates of disease protection for influenza virus vaccines, a 20% reduced titer does not indicate a biologically relevant change in neutralization activity." – Fizz Mar 12 at 12:54

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