UK coronavirus death toll 'could have been halved if lockdown was brought in a week earlier'

10 June 2020, 16:44

By Kate Buck

The UK's coronavirus death toll could have been halved if lockdown was brought in one week earlier, a former government scientist has claimed.

Professor Neil Ferguson told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee briefing: "The epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced.

"So, had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half."

However, he added that based on what was known about transmission and fatalities at the time, the measures were warranted.

Professor Ferguson was a member of the government's Sage committee, but resigned last month after being accused of breaking lockdown rules.

However, he told the committee he still sits on SPI-M, which advises the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

Prof Ferguson resigned from Sage over allegations he broke lock down rules
Prof Ferguson resigned from Sage over allegations he broke lock down rules. Picture: PA

The UK was put into lockdown on March 23 in an unprecedented step to attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Early in the outbreak, experts had estimated that the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK would be unlikely to exceed 20,000.

But the UK has suffered more than 40,000 deaths during the course of the pandemic so far, making it the worst hit in Europe and second only to the US.

When asked what had gone wrong, Prof Ferguson said: "I think two things - one is a paper actually out in Nature, which highlights that around about that time, just before lockdown happened, the first two weeks of March, we probably had 1,500 to 2,000 infections imported from Italy and Spain, which we just hadn't seen in the surveillance data, until that point.

"So there is much heavier seeding than we'd expected."

He added: "The key things to determine number of deaths is at what point in your local epidemic you trigger interventions - how far in are you when you shut down transmission.

"And we frankly had underestimated how far into the epidemic this country was, that's half the reason.

"The second part, which I think would have been more avoidable, is about half of those deaths occurred in care homes."

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