Coronavirus: Chief scientific adviser says there could be 55,000 cases in the UK

17 March 2020, 15:39

Sir Patrick Vallance says it is "reasonable" to assume around 55,000 people in the UK have the virus
Sir Patrick Vallance says it is "reasonable" to assume around 55,000 people in the UK have the virus. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

The UK's chief scientific adviser has said it is a "reasonable ballpark" to assume around 55,000 people in the country have Covid-19.

Sir Patrick Vallance made the comment as he answered questions from a government health committee on Tuesday, and predicted that effects of recent measures imposed by the government would be seen in the coming weeks.

These measures could reduce the number of deaths to 20,000 from the 250,000 predicted in an earlier report by Imperial College London.

He added: "That's a good outcome in terms of where we had hoped to get with this outbreak.

"I mean, it's still horrible. It's still an enormous number of deaths and it's still an enormous pressure on the health services."

READ MORE: [Live] UK ramps up measures after 250,000 deaths prediction

Responding to whether the UK was moving from the delay phase to suppression, he said this had always been the approach.

"Right from the outset, the aim was to save lives and protect the vulnerable through two approaches," he said.

The first approach was to "suppress" the illness, while the second was to "shield the most vulnerable".

He added: "That remains the approach."

The mitigating measures introduced by the government, he continued, had been constructed by looking into how they would each effect the peak number of cases of the virus.

They include:

+ General social distancing measures: Sir Vallance said while they were "quite extreme", they could also reduce the peak by around 50%

+ Whole household quarantine: Could reduce the peak by 25%

+ Social shielding of the elderly: Sir Vallance said this had little effect on the peak, but a big effect on mortality rate. This could be dropped by around 20-30%

+ Case isloation: Could reduce the peak by 20%

READ MORE: Brits advised against all 'non-essential travel' abroad due to coronavirus

"They're not all completely additive, but together, they should have a very significant effect on the peak, and we should start to see the rates come down in two or three weeks time," Sir Vallance said.

He added: "As we enter this next phase and make these very significant interventions, it becomes really important we get good data to monitor effects."

The committee session came as the Department of Health released its updated figures which showed a jump of 407 cases in 24 hours in the UK, reaching a total of 1,950.