Epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson has claimed that if the UK government had imposed lockdown measures a week earlier, it could have reduced COVID-19 deaths by at least 50%.
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Giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, the Imperial College London scientist said: “The epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced. Had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has since dismissed the damning indictment as ‘premature’ during the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on June 10, citing that there is still a lot of unknown data and variables. However, during the same session, the PM and expert government advisors Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty stopped short of attacking the accuracy of Professor Ferguson’s findings.
Professor Ferguson was a former member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and helped develop the UK government’s lockdown strategy. He had found himself at the centre of controversy in May, when he was forced to resign after allegedly breaching lockdown rules.
During a March 13 meeting of SAGE, Professor Ferguson’s report highlighted that COVID-19 was a more urgent threat than previously thought. Critics have attacked the UK government’s slow response in introducing lockdown measures 15 days after its third COVID-19 death on March 23. By this time, experts estimated that 100,000 people were being infected by the virus every day. It was this delay which could have saved more than 20,000 lives, claims Professor Ferguson.
However, the government has responded, saying there was a lack of clear information on the outbreak in the UK. Scientist Professor John Edmunds told a BBC news program: “I think it would have been hard to do it [the lockdown], and I think the data that we were dealing with in the early part of March, and our current situational awareness was really quite poor.”
To date, the UK has more than 41,000 deaths attributed to the epidemic, and reports more average deaths across seven days (293.3) from coronavirus than the rest of Europe combined (255.7).
Meanwhile, a preliminary study from University of Oxford and University of Edinburgh researchers has traced the transmission of at least 1,356 COVID-19 infected people inbound to the UK from overseas. Of these people, 77% originated in travel from Europe, including Spain, France and Italy. Early contact tracing had not fully captured these increasing rates and source locations.