Epidemiologist supports claim week earlier lockdown would have halved UK death toll

10 June 2020, 20:23

By Fiona Jones

This epidemiologist and independent Sage member agrees with the estimate that if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier "at least" half of all lives would have been saved.

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."

Separately, Channel 4 News claims to have seen a leaked paper prepared for one of the committees advising the government which called in the starkest possible way for a lockdown a full two weeks before the initial announcement.

Epidemiologist Professor Gabriel Scally is a member of independent Sage calling for an immediate inquiry into the handling of coronavirus and corroborated Neil Ferguson's estimate.

He told LBC: "Undoubtedly there were delays all the way through and it's not just delays in lockdown, big though that was and I agree with Neil Ferguson's estimate, at least half of the lives could be saved."

"But there were four things I think: one was earlier the ban on mass gatherings; secondly was not abandoning test and tracing on 10 March, in fact it should have been strengthened; third thing, the lockdown should have been brought in earlier; and the fourth thing that has only now been done is the border controls to stop people bringing cases into the country."

Professor Scally said, "All in all it's a huge spectrum of delay and all of it adds up to a huge number of preventable deaths."

Iain countered that Sage were not advising the government to introduce lockdown immediately as people may fatigue of the rules leading to a second wave.

"The number of cases doubles every 3 or 4 days so it's a huge delay and one of the reasons Sage didn't recommend it if it didn't was that there are no public health people on Sage," said Professor Scally, "I'm a public health doctor...and one of the things you do is get in early.

"We don't know about this virus...but the principles are just the same. You put in your predictions on everything as early as you can and then you sort it out afterwards. It's not just the lives that have been lost but also if these things had been done earlier, we would have been coming out of lockdown far earlier.

"As it happens it's dragging on and we're still getting thousands of new cases everyday."

The epidemiologist observed that the government were always looking for one singular measure to quell coronavirus instead of combining different measures while increasing testing capacity: "Instead of building it up those numbers and doing it properly, it was just abandoned."

He observed, "These are all reasons why the UK has ended up in the position it is in."

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