Experts claim earlier coronavirus lockdown could have saved more lives

PUBLISHED: 10:01 12 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:11 12 May 2020

UK prime minister Boris Johnson (L) and Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon (R) have faced mounting criticism of their handling of the coronavirus outbreak;  DUNCAN MCGLYNN/AFP via Getty Images

UK prime minister Boris Johnson (L) and Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon (R) have faced mounting criticism of their handling of the coronavirus outbreak; DUNCAN MCGLYNN/AFP via Getty Images

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A professor has claimed that more lives could have been saved had the UK government enforced a coronavirus lockdown sooner.

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Sir Lawrence Freedman, a strategic studies professor at Kings College, accused the government of following public opinion rather than leading it when it imposed a shutdown of the economy on March 23.

Writing in Survival, a journal by the International Institute for Strategic Studies institute, Freedman said: “After March 23, the measures enjoyed wide public support and compliance was good.

“The government met its main target. The NHS was not overwhelmed. Yet the death toll is high.

“One reason for this, hard to quantify, was the delayed moving to lockdown. Another was simply that London is a global city and Europe’s largest.”

He claimed ministers did not adequately assess the threat of a spread of Covid-19 in care homes, saying: “It is now clear that while preparing the NHS for an influx of cases, the threat to care homes was not only given insufficient attention, but even aggravated.

He said ministers could have done more to question scientific advice: “The initial advice may have fitted the government’s preference to avoid the social and economic costs of more stringent measures, but it is always the responsibility of ministers to interrogate advice and also to read movements in public opinion, in this case becoming anxious and impatient with half-measures.”

MORE: Nicola Sturgeon says Boris Johnson’s ‘stay alert’ messaging could ‘put lives at risk’

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These criticisms come as governments across the four nations face increased scrutiny of their handling of the initial Covid-19 outbreak in the UK.

Epidemiologists at Edinburgh University claim that more than 2,000 lives could have been saved in Scotland had Holyrood installed a lockdown two weeks earlier, The Telegraph reports. They claim that equates to four out of five deaths.

Using a simulated model based on the behaviour of the Scottish population, Professor Rowland Kao estimated that the country’s death rate by May 3 would have been only 577 instead of 2,795.

Professor Kao admitted his modelling did contain a level of uncertainty but said it did help showcase how an earlier lockdown may have saved lives.

A BBC Disclosure investigation found that the virus had entered Scotland in February during a Nike conference at Edinburgh’s Hilton Carlton Hotel that was attended by more than 70 people, and not in Tayside on March 1, as was previously thought.

It is alleged Scottish authorities were aware of the outbreak and did not inform the public.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “At all times, the Scottish government’s actions have been guided by the best and most up to date expert scientific and medical advice, working closely with governments across the UK.”

Department of Health figures show that a total of 32,065 people had died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community from the coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday. The number of deaths involving Covid-19 that have been registered across the UK currently stands at 33,021.

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