Professor Neil Ferguson admits he has 'greatest respect' for Sweden

Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson whose warning that 500,000 Brits would die from Covid-19 without action admits he has the ‘greatest respect’ for Sweden which opted against draconian measures and suffered fewer deaths than the UK

  • Professor admitted there is lessons to be learned from Sweden moving forward
  • Sweden dodged major crisis without locking down and seeing economy implode
  • Professor Ferguson’s team predicted staggering amount of UK deaths in March 
  • Modelling thought to have single-handedly shocked UK into imposing lockdown 

Professor Neil Ferguson has admitted he is looking ‘very closely’ at Sweden’s coronavirus success to help pave the way for a post-lockdown Britain. 

The Imperial College London scientist said he had the ‘greatest respect’ for the Scandinavian nation, which has managed to avert a major crisis without imposing draconian restrictions.  

He admitted he was stumped as to why Sweden had recorded just 4,000 Covid deaths when some calculations estimated the country would suffer 90,000 without the measures. 

It comes amid growing criticism of his team’s mathematical modelling of the pandemic, which predicted half a million Britons could die from the viral disease and heavily influenced the UK’s decision to rush into lockdown.

Professor Ferguson made the comments to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee during his first public appearance since a series of public controversies.

The epidemiologist – dubbed Professor Lockdown for his role in the Government’s strategy –  was caught flouting stay at home rules to have secret trysts with his married mistress last month.  

Professor Neil Ferguson has admitted he is looking ‘very closely’ at Sweden’s coronavirus success to help pave the way for a post-lockdown Britain

The Imperial College London scientist made the comments to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee during his first public appearance since a series of public controversies

Then the group of scientists were accused of using an outdated mathematical model in their March report which predicted half a million deaths in the UK.

Professor Ferguson told the committee: ‘There are differences in how science has influenced policies in different countries.

‘I have the greatest respect for scientists there [in Sweden]. They came to a different policy conclusion but based really on quite similar science.

‘They make the argument that countries will find it very hard to really stop second waves… I don’t agree with it but scientifically they are not that far from scientists in any country in the world.’  

Professor Ferguson was quizzed about why Sweden had recorded such few deaths without imposing lockdown, and faced questions about whether the economically-crippling measures were necessary in the UK. 

As of Monday, Sweden has recorded 37,814 cases of coronavirus without going into lockdown

Eight more people died from the virus overnight bringing the total death toll to 4403


Professor Ferguson also told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee that transmission from Spain and Italy in late February and early March contributed to the UK becoming the worst-hit country in Europe. 

He said: ‘One thing the genetic data is showing us now is most chains of transmission still existing in the UK originated in Spain, to some extent Italy.

‘So we had been worrying about importation of infection from China, we’re a very well-connected country in the world, other Asian countries, the US.

‘But it’s clear that before we were even in a position to measure it, before surveillance systems were set up, there were many hundreds, if not thousands, of infected individuals who came into the country in late February and early March from that area.

‘And that meant the epidemic was further ahead than we anticipated which explains some of the acceleration of policy then, but it also explains why, to some extent, why mortality figures ended up being higher than we had hoped.’

Some experts have claimed that social distancing and strict hand-washing protocols would have been suffice to flatten the epidemic’s curve. 

He added: ‘I think it’s an interesting question. It’s clear there have been significant social distancing in Sweden. 

‘Our best estimate is that that has led to a reduction in the reproduction number to around 1.

‘It’s clear that when you look at their mortality, they are not seeing the rate of decline most European countries are seeing.

‘But nevertheless it is interesting that adopting a policy which is short of a full lockdown… they’ve gone quite a long way to [achieving] the same effect.

‘Although there is no evidence of a rapid decline in the same way in other European countries. That is something we’re looking at very closely.

‘Lockdown is a very crude policy and what we’d like to do is have a much more targeted approach that does not have the same economic impacts.’  

Professor Ferguson also told the committee he was ‘shocked’ at how badly care home populations were protected globally.

‘I, like many people, am shocked about how badly European – or countries around the world – have protected care home populations,’ he said.

Asked about what could be done in future, he said: ‘If we had done a better job, or did do a better job, of reducing transmission in closed institutions like hospitals and care homes, we would have a little bit more room, wiggle room as it were.

‘The infections in care homes and hospitals spilled back into the community, more commonly from the people who work in those institutions.

‘So if you can drive the infection rates low in those institutional settings, you drive the infection lower in the community as a whole.’ 

Professor Ferguson said he expects transmission and numbers of cases to remain ‘relatively flat’ between now and September – but after that it remains ‘very unclear’.

‘I suspect though, under any scenario that levels of transmission and numbers of cases will remain relatively flat between now and September, short of very big policy changes or behaviour changes in the community.

‘The real uncertainty then is if there are larger policy changes in September, of course we move into time of year when respiratory viruses tend to transmit slightly better, what will happen then. And that remains very unclear.’ 

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