Scientist says death toll could have been reduced by half if lockdown was introduced a week earlier

PUBLISHED: 16:21 10 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:49 11 June 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street, London, as he placed the UK on lockdown. Photograph: PA Video.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressing the nation from 10 Downing Street, London, as he placed the UK on lockdown. Photograph: PA Video.

PA Wire/PA Images

One of the scientists that convinced the government to eventually implement the coronavirus lockdown said if it had been done a week earlier the death toll would have been half.

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Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told the Science and Technology Committee that a quicker implementation of the restrictions could have significantly saved more lives.

He was challenged by the committee’s chairman Greg Clark on why he estimated in March that deaths would be no more than 20,000 - approximately half the figure it is now.

The former Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) scientist said: “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.


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“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”.

Shortly before the country entered lockdown it was claimed Boris Johnson’s government were looking at a strategy of herd immunity, something Downing Street has strenuously denied.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, told the BBC on March 13 that the “aim” was to “not suppress (coronavirus) completely... to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease”, while still reducing the peak number of infections to protect the NHS.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow Health and Social Care secretary, said:

“The tragic reality is Boris Johnson was too slow to take us into lockdown, too slow on PPE for health and care staff, too slow on testing and now too slow on putting in place a functional test and trace regime.

“Ministers must accept they made mistakes and reassure they have learnt lessons so we can save as many lives as possible and minimise harm from this horrific deadly virus.”

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