They said one or more places with between 200,000 and 300,000 residents each could be chosen, and that administrators would enforce a strict quarantine on households where a member tested positive for Covid-19.
“Quarantine would end when all residents of the household test negative at the same time; everyone else in the city can resume normal life, if they choose to,” the experts wrote in a letter to the medical journal Lancet.
“The rate at which the number of infections then rises or falls, compared with the rest of the UK, will be apparent within a few weeks,” they said.
“A decision to proceed with national roll-out can then be made, beginning in high-risk areas and limited only by reagent supplies.”
The group of public health experts and epidemiologists includes Professor Julian Peto from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Professor David Hunter from the University of Oxford and Professor Elio Riboli from Imperial College London.
They warned that “alternating periods of lockdown and relaxation of restrictions” could be dangerous, and offered “universal repeated testing” as an alternate strategy as the UK moves to end the current lockdown.
“Extended periods of lockdown will increase economic and social damage, and each relaxation will almost certainly trigger a further epidemic wave of deaths,” they wrote.
“These cycles will kill tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people before a vaccine becomes available, with the most disadvantaged groups experiencing the greatest suffering.”
The UK extended its nationwide lockdown this week to last until at least early May.
The public have been ordered to stay at home unless it is essential – for example, to get food or go to work if tele-commuting is not possible – and all public gatherings of more than two have been banned in a bid to limit the spread of coronavirus.
More than 120,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, the health ministry said on Sunday.
The death toll for hospitalised Covid-19 patients stood at 16,060 as of Saturday afternoon, according to government figures.