Radical ‘voluntary virus infection’ plan

Would you voluntarily become infected with coronavirus if it meant you could get back to normal life in a matter of weeks rather than months, or longer?

That's the premise put forward by a UK academic as a possible way for Britain to navigate its way out of COVID-19.

"For a young, healthy, single person, the analysis shows that they could suffer less than half the overall harm under voluntary exposure than they do under continued social distancing," said Dr Chris Hope at Cambridge University's Judge Business School.

The quandary comes as the UK tries to steer a course to exit its current severe lockdowns.


The UK has recorded 165,000 infections and 26,000 deaths. Only the US and Italy have had more fatalities.

This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson dampened hopes that restrictions would soon be eased with the country struggling to source another protective equipment for healthcare workers or testing kits for the general population.

Under Dr Hope's "voluntary exposure" approach, people who chose to be infected with the virus and then stayed in their homes until they were no longer infectious "would then be able to resume something closer to normal life, once sufficient numbers were immune and the government allowed it," he said in a paper.

Source - World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins, other media

The Cambridge academic stressed it was a working paper that had not been peer reviewed and was a "first analysis" of the proposal.

"It's really just a proof of concept, to show the idea shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. I am keen to get comments from as many perspectives as possible," he said.

The analysis looked at the possible length of restrictions and the effect that could have on a person's earnings compared to the possibility of become severely ill with coronavirus and possibly dying.

"Which is better if I'm given a choice, voluntary exposure or social distancing?" the paper said.

A Cambridge University academic has raised the prospect of people being voluntarily infected with coronavirus.
A Cambridge University academic has raised the prospect of people being voluntarily infected with coronavirus.


"The basic trade-off is that voluntary exposure allows me to obtain an earlier return to near-normal life, and a certainty that I'm not infecting others outside my household in exchange for increasing the small chance that I will suffer major symptoms, possibly death, since under social distancing I may not get infected at all."

Dr Hope said voluntary exposure would likely cause the infection to be transmitted but could be done so with no risk to anyone outside the person's home.

Originally published as Radical 'voluntary virus infection' plan