UK lockdown v Early lockdown v No lockdown: Which would have worked best?

13 April 2020, 16:01

Would the UK have had fewer coronavirus deaths if Boris Johnson had announced a lockdown earlier? Or should we have followed Sweden's example and not locked down at all? This data expert explains what would have happened.

It is three weeks to the day since Boris Johnson announced the UK lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus - and it's not expected to be lifted until May at the earliest.

Countries such as Ireland locked down much earlier, before the disease had really taken hold in the country, while Sweden has decided against a lockdown completely. So how have those countries fared and has the UK been on the right path?

John Burn-Murdoch is a data and statistics journalist with the Financial Times and has been tracking the spread of the virus across the world.

Would the UK have done better without a lockdown?
Would the UK have done better without a lockdown? Picture: PA

He told Shelagh Fogarty: "There are a set of countries who locked down much earlier in the outbreak than countries like the UK, the US and Italy. It does seem pretty consistently to be the case that their curves, their trajectory of new cases and new deaths is flatter than the UK and the US.

"There are lots of factors involved. When a country locks down is obviously a big factor, but there are other factors to think about here.

"But there's enough data here to show that the countries that locked down earlier are so far doing better in keeping those infection and death rates down."

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But what about Sweden, who have been one of the few countries to avoid a total lockdown?

Mr Burn-Murdoch revealed: "It's quite striking, especially when you consider neighbouring Norway, two Scandinavian countries in which a number of aspects of their societies and health care systems are similar.

"But when one compares their rates of infection and deaths from coronavirus, you get quite opposing stories emerging.

"In Sweden, the number of lives lost to coronavirus is still on an upward trend - every day, slightly more people are losing their lives than the day before.

"In Norway, the number of new deaths has been pretty flat now for a good week. And the numbers themselves are significantly lower.

"So the evidence is that Norway, which had a very early lockdown, took this quite seriously and as a result, the numbers of new infections and deaths seems to be potentially plateauing, whereas in Sweden, where they decided to keep things moving and be more light-touch in the lockdown, those numbers are definitely going up and up every day and the overall death toll is much higher."

His evidence is fascinating - listen at the top of the page.