Wednesday, 23 Sep 2020

UK death toll 'could have been halved if lockdown started week earlier'

Introducing lockdown measures a week earlier could have reduced UK coronavirus deaths by half.

Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, has told the Science and Technology Committee: ‘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.

Mr Ferguson said that a paper in Nature today highlights that just before lockdown happened, the first two weeks of March, there were 1,500 to 2,000 infections imported from Italy and Spain ‘which we just hadn’t seen in the surveillance data until that point’.

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He added: ‘There was much heavier seeding than we expected.

‘We frankly had underestimated how far into the epidemic this country was. That’s part of the reason [for excess UK deaths].’

He said the second problem with the UK response was in shielding of care homes.

‘We were all working under the assumption which was government policy at the time, that care homes would be shielded from infection,’ he said. ‘What we’ve actually seen is infection rates which are probably four times higher than the general population, in a very vulnerable population groups.’

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