Covid deaths halved if lockdown was week earlier: Professor Ferguson

Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson claims Britain’s death toll would have been HALVED if draconian measures were introduced one week earlier

  • Boris Johnson introduced the lockdown on March 23 on back of grim modelling
  • Ferguson said timing was correct based on limited data scientists had at time 
  • But in hindsight lockdown should’ve come a week earlier and saved 20,000 lives 

Britain’s coronavirus death toll could have been halved if stay at home measures were introduced a week earlier, ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson has claimed. 

Boris Johnson introduced the lockdown on March 23 on the back of the Imperial College London scientist’s grim modelling, which predicted 500,000 people could die if the virus was left unchecked.  

Professor Ferguson said that, based on what was known about transmission and fatalities at the time, the draconian measures were implemented at the correct time.

But he conceded that, in hindsight, around 20,000 lives could have been saved if the lockdown had come a week earlier. 

Britain has officially suffered 40,000 fatalities where Covid-19 was the definite cause of death – the most in Europe and only second to the US. 

But the true death toll is thought to be above 50,000 according to estimates which factor in suspected cases who did not receive a test.

Professor Ferguson made the stark admission at a virtual House of Commons Science and Technology Committee briefing.

It was one of only a handful of public appearances made by the former SAGE scientist, who was forced to stand down from the group after flouting stay at home rules to have secret trysts with his married mistress.

Professor Ferguson also claimed that Britain missed 90 per cent of its coronavirus cases because it was not screening passengers at airports, in a thinly-veiled jab at the Government. 

Britain’s death toll from COVID-19 could have been halved if lockdown was introduced a week earlier, ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson has claimed

Professor Ferguson made the stark admission at a virtual House of Commons Science and Technology Committee briefing today in a rare public appearance since flouting stay at home rules to have secret trysts with his married mistress

The epidemiologist told MPs today: ‘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.’ 

The widespread use of face masks in Britain could keep the reproduction rate below one and stop a second wave of coronavirus as the UK comes out of lockdown, a study suggests.  

Modelling by the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich found if half of Brits wore masks it would prevent the crisis from spiralling back out of control.  

The researchers said mask-wearing by everyone was twice as effective at reducing R compared to only asking symptomatic people to use them. 

Lead author Dr Richard Stutt, from Cambridge University, said: ‘Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public.’

If 50 per cent or more of the population wore them then the R will remain below one as long as social distancing stayed in place and lockdown was eased very gradually, the study claims.

If every single Briton wore masks in public then the scientists estimate it could keep R stable without any draconian curbs.

But the researchers admit it would be highly unlikely that everyone would adhere to the rules.  

The UK’s R rate is thought to be between 0.7 and 0.9 — but some experts estimate it has crept above 1 in the North West and South West of England.  

The R represents the average number of people an infected patient passes the virus to and keeping it below 1 is crucial to prevent a second surge of the virus.  

Professor Ferguson claimed that a lack of screening at airports was the route cause of Britain’s catastrophic outbreak.

He claimed he was sounding the alarm about imported cases coming from Italy and Spain since February.

Professor Ferguson criticised the UK for taking too long to ramp up its testing capacity, which meant swabs were reserved for only very sick Covid patients.

The result was that thousands of infected people were allowed to fly in from Europe and spread the virus through the UK.  

Professor Ferguson told MPs: ‘We tried very hard to estimate what proportion of cases were being missed. At the time [before lockdown] we didn’t have a policy of screening people at borders and we estimated then that two-thirds of cases were being missed.

‘What we know now is… it’s probably 90 per cent of cases imported to this country were missed.

‘These were really decisions made by the Foreign Office and by the Department of Health and Social Care, not by SAGE.

‘SAGE recommended that when a country had been identified as having active transmission, we should check travellers from those countries.

‘The difficult was we know now, particularly with Spain and Italy, had large epidemics before they even realised. We were just not aware of the scale of transmission in Europe.

‘Had we had the testing capacity then certainly screening everybody with symptoms coming in would’ve given us a much better impression of where infections were coming from.’

Epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse, a professor at the University of Edinburgh and an adviser to Tony Blair’s Government during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, told the committee that he feared lockdown would be worse for the nation’s health than coronavirus itself. 

He said: ‘I don’t think we will be able to do a full reckoning of the cost of lockdown for some time yet. I have no doubt that lockdown itself will cause a loss of livelihoods, loss of wellbeing and, quite possibly, a loss of lives of itself.

‘But we won’t be able to balance that out for some time. I fear that, to a degree, in the UK… lockdown may be considerably worse than the disease itself.’

Air travel was a ‘major’ driver in spread of Covid-19 worldwide: Report warns Britain was a prime example of where constant flights letting travellers pour into the country ‘facilitated contagion’

Covid-19 outbreaks have been worse in areas with major airports and large numbers of travellers passing through them, according to a global report.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) said the spread of the disease, which has killed more than 50,000 people in Britain, was ‘highly correlated’ with air travel.

It claimed the UK was a prime example of where constant flights, both domestic and international, had ‘facilitated contagion’.

Ministers have throughout the crisis refused to shut the borders to travellers, opting instead only to advise people not to travel, which in turn hit airlines so hard they had to stop flights because they were losing money. 

Other countries hit by coronavirus meanwhile, including China and Italy, closed their borders to all international visitors and sent them home or locked them in.  

The public called for international travel to stop early on in the outbreak but officials refused and Government documents have since revealed it was because so many people in the UK already had the virus.

A rule that came into place this week now requires all people travelling into Britain to self-isolate for two weeks, while there has been talk of ‘air bridges’ to popular tourist destinations to allow people to travel freely.

Britain has been one of the worst-hit nations in the world during the pandemic, with 290,000 people officially diagnosed and more than 40,000 confirmed dead. Only the US has had more cases and deaths, with Brazil and Russia recording more cases but not as many deaths — although Brazil will likely pass the UK within days. 

A separate study by researchers at the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh estimated that most of the imported cases of coronavirus in Britain came from Spain, France and Italy, and that only a tiny fraction came from Asian countries, with just 0.08 per cent transmitted by people travelling from China (Study published on Virological.org)

Britain has not banned international flights at any point of the outbreak, instead advising people not to go abroad (Pictured: People passing through Heathrow Airport this week)

The IEP report showed that international travel hubs particularly badly hit by the coronavirus – including Milan, New York and London – had to almost completely stop people moving around in order to get on top their outbreaks

The IEP’s Global Peace Index report said: ‘The flow of air passengers across and within country borders has been a major contributor to the spread of the virus’. 

A director at IEP, Serge Stroobants, said: ‘The countries most impacted are countries that are really participating in global trade in the globalised world and the interconnected world. 

‘These are countries in which you will find a large airport hub, giving the potential to people to travel from one country to the other. 

‘That’s why, for example, the region of Milan in Italy, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, London and New York, those big international hubs created more exchanges and more potential for the virus to grow.’ 

The UK Government’s policies on air travel during the pandemic have been highly controversial. 

Flights have been unrestricted and international arrivals have only been required to enter a 14-day quarantine since Monday, June 8. 

When there was still a small number of coronavirus cases in the UK, there were calls for restrictions on flights from destinations deemed at high risk of the virus. 

The Government insisted at the time there was no evidence that closing the borders would be an effective measure.

Air travel had to be drastically reduced worldwide to stop the virus from spreading. Experts said international travel had ‘facilitated contagion’

STOPPING INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS CONSIDERED ‘NOT A USEFUL MEASURE’ IN MARCH

In a paper dated March 22, the day before lockdown, scientists said stopping international flights in a bid to stop people bringing the coronavirus to the UK from abroad was ‘not a useful measure’.

There were so many people already infected in Britain that any imported cases would be drops in the ocean, the paper explained.

It said: ‘The initial view from SPI-M [the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which reports to SAGE] is that given the current widescale transmission of COVID-19 within the UK, measures to stop imported cases would have negligible impact. This might change if the UK were to successfully contain the epidemic.’

On the subject of ‘hotspots’ the SPI-M committee suggested that flights from Spain and Iran were probably the highest risk.

Spain because of the sheer number of passengers – there were some 15,000 per day still arriving on weekday flights that week.

And Iran because of the severity of the outbreak there – even though passenger numbers were low, there was a high chance some of them might have the illness.

It said flights from countries like France, Italy and Germany were low-risk because they were going through the same experience as the UK and passenger numbers were already low because of their government and airline restrictions.

Britain did not force flights to stop but told people not to travel abroad. Airlines took it upon themselves to stop most flights when passenger numbers dried up.

It has since emerged that the reason officials refused to stop international flights into and out of the UK was that millions of people in Britain already had the virus.

Documents that were presented to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in March showed stopping flights would not have protected the UK.

In a paper dated March 22, the day before Britain’s lockdown, scientists said stopping international flights in a bid to stop people bringing the coronavirus to the UK from abroad was ‘not a useful measure’.

There were so many people already infected in Britain that any imported cases would be drops in the ocean, the paper explained.

It said: ‘The initial view from SPI-M [the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which advises SAGE] is that given the current widescale transmission of Covid-19 within the UK, measures to stop imported cases would have negligible impact. This might change if the UK were to successfully contain the epidemic.’

On the subject of ‘hotspots’ the SPI-M committee suggested that flights from Spain and Iran were probably the highest risk.

Spain because of the sheer number of passengers – there were some 15,000 per day still arriving on weekday flights that week.

And Iran because of the severity of the outbreak there – even though passenger numbers were low, there was a high chance some of them might have the illness.

It said flights from countries like France, Italy and Germany were low-risk because they were going through the same experience as the UK and passenger numbers were already low because of their government and airline restrictions.

Britain did not force flights to stop but told people not to travel abroad. Airlines took it upon themselves to stop most flights when passenger numbers dried up. 

As the country moves of lockdown air travel is now starting to return to something resembling normal in the UK. 

Gatwick Airport will reopen its north terminal and extend its operating hours from Monday.

The West Sussex airport announced the measures as airlines scale up their flying programmes.

EasyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair are among the carriers whose passengers will use the north terminal from Monday. 

Since April 1, Gatwick has only opened its south terminal and flights have been scheduled between 2pm and 10pm, but this will be extended to between 6am and 10pm.   

In 2019, Gatwick served more destinations than any other UK airport and saw 280,700 flights and 46.6million passengers use the international airport. 

However in April this year, the airport had a total of just 305 aircraft movements, data from the Civil Aviation Authority showed. 

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