Ex-Chief Scientific Adviser: Early lockdown would have meant "a fraction of the deaths"

11 June 2020, 13:54

By Fiona Jones

Former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King told LBC that an earlier lockdown would have undoubtedly saved lives.

It is "very clear" the government have not been following the scientific advice despite repeatedly insisting otherwise, said Sir David.

He supported the claim made by former Sage member Sir Neil Ferguson that the UK's coronavirus death toll could have been halved if lockdown was brought in one week earlier.

Sir David told Nick Ferrari that what is missing from the discussion is "the fact that the government had a very different policy which was herd immunity."

"We know that the Prime Minister had been making speeches saying our economy will take off while the world goes into lockdown and the only way you can interpret that was...we're going for herd immunity which means over 60% of us would have got the disease and by that time there's enough immunity in the country that the whole epidemic comes to an end," Sir David said, quoting the current Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance who explained this in a daily briefing.

This has since been revised, although Sir David pointed out it would be interesting to find out when.

The scientist said: "The WHO gave very clear advice to countries and several countries Australia, New Zealand, Greece, for example, took that advice literally and went into lockdown early.

Sir David King told LBC that Boris Johnson should not have tried to pursue herd immunity at all
Sir David King told LBC that Boris Johnson should not have tried to pursue herd immunity at all. Picture: LBC/PA

"The earlier you go into lockdown early in the face of an epidemic, the more quickly you get the whole thing out of the way and you can get back to business.

"So there is no difference between wanting the epidemic to be over quickly and to reduce the number of deaths and the economic benefits from that. It's not a challenge between economic benefits and the number of fatalities."

Sir David told Nick that it was the UK that advised the World Health Organisation on infectious diseases back in 2006 - so the UK did not follow its own advice and science during this pandemic.

Nick pointed out we cannot cherry pick WHO advice to follow, such as the contention over the 2 metre rule, and Sir David responded: "All I'm saying is make the comparison between where Britain is, now probably in the worst position in the world, and where Greece is where they are out of the pandemic with a total number of deaths of 175."

While Greece is vastly different to the UK in terms of population and land mass Sir David said he was not comparing eggs with eggs.

"All I'm saying is if we had gone into lockdown in early March as Greece did, we would be out of this epidemic with a tiny fraction of the fatalities that we have and we'd have been out of it by now," Sir David King said.