Coronavirus deaths could have been reduced “by at least half” if the UK had gone into lockdown a week earlier, one of government’s former key advisers has told MPs.
Professor Neil Ferguson, of London’s Imperial College, said he believed the right decisions were taken by ministers over COVID-19 but questioned whether they were taken at the right time.
He told the House of Commons science committee of MPs: “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 toll by at least a half.”
He continued: “Whilst I think the measures, given what we knew about this virus then in terms of its transmission and its lethality, were warranted – I wouldn’t second-guess them at this point – certainly had we introduced them earlier, we would have seen many fewer deaths.”
Prof Ferguson said he estimated that the number of deaths directly caused by coronavirus would be more than 50,000, meaning 25,000 lives could have been saved by going into lockdown a week earlier.
In March, Prof Ferguson estimated that the pandemic would cause at most 20,000 deaths.
He told MPs that scientists had “underestimated how far into the epidemic this country was” in March.
He also said government advisers did not anticipate how high deaths in care homes would be, as they acted on the assumption that residents would be shielded.
According to Department of Health figures, a further 245 people in the UK have died with coronavirus as of 5pm on Tuesday, taking the total to 41,128 deaths.
The figures from the Department of Health cover coronavirus-related deaths in all settings, including hospitals, care homes and the community.
The daily figures for each UK nation are:
- Scotland – 12 new deaths – total 2,434
- Northern Ireland – 0 new deaths – total remains 537
- England – 88 new deaths – total hospital deaths 27,707
- Wales – nine new deaths – total 1,419
Individual health authorities in the home nations collate their numbers at different times throughout the day and so they may not tally up to the UK government’s overall daily total.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced lockdown measures on 23 March.
Prof Ferguson played a leading role in advising the government during the early stages of the pandemic, before being forced to leave the scientific advisory group SAGE after being caught breaking lockdown rules.
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