Photo: Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London
Britain’s death toll from Covid-19 could have been halved if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier, a former member of the British government’s scientific advisory group said on Wednesday.
The country has an official death toll of more than 40,000 from confirmed Covid-19 cases, rising to over 50,000 when deaths from suspected cases are included.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed the lockdown on March 23.
Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson told lawmakers that Britain had taken the right measures but too late.
“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 then reduced the final death toll by at least a half,” Ferguson said.
“So, whilst I think the measures … were warranted … certainly had we introduced them earlier, we would have seen many fewer deaths.”
Ferguson, a professor at Imperial College in London, produced a model which influenced Britain’s response to the pandemic, but later stood down from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) after he was accused of breaking lockdown rules.
His comments echo those of another scientific adviser, John Edmunds, who said over the weekend that Britain should have gone into lockdown earlier.
Johnson said it was too early to say what regrets he had or lessons he could learn over the handling of the pandemic.
“We made the decisions at the time on the guidance of Sage, including Professor Ferguson, that we thought were right for this country,” he told reporters.
Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said the one issue he would choose to look at was how to speed up testing earlier.
“Many of the problems that we had came because we were unable to work out exactly where we were,” he said.
The government has begun to ease the lockdown, with the relaxing of movement restrictions and the return of some children to school but says it will proceed cautiously. Britain is still seeing several thousand new confirmed coronavirus cases and hundreds of deaths a week. According to the global coronavirus count kept by Johns Hopkins University, the nation is second only to the United States in the number of Covid-19-related fatalities.
Non-essential stores and outdoor spaces such as zoos are being allowed to reopen in England starting on Monday. And starting this weekend, adults living alone, and single parents can form “support bubbles” with one other household. Members of the same bubbles can meet, indoors or out, without remaining two metres (six feet) apart.
The change means some grandparents will be able to hug their grandchildren for the first time in months – and couples who live apart can legally be intimate.
However, the new rule applies only in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can make their own policies.