A leading scientist behind Britain’s coronavirus response said up to 30,000 deaths would have been prevented had the country been locked down a week earlier.
The comments by Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at University College London, came a day after Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings told a parliamentary committee “tens of thousands of people have died without need to die ”.
During seven hours of explosive testimony on Wednesday, the prime minister’s former right-hand man condemned the government’s swift response to Covid-19, accusing ministers of being too slow to act.
Mr Cummings said key health officials ‘were literally skiing’ when the UK should have drawn up plans to reduce the spread of the disease early last year.
Asked about the events leading up to the first lockdown on March 23, Professor Ferguson said the worsening situation and the rise in the number of new cases ended up “concentrating minds” within the government.
He agreed that the authorities should have issued the stay home order earlier.
“If we had locked up a week earlier, we would have saved half the lives, but it was much earlier in the pandemic, around 20 to 30,000 lives and I think that is indisputable,” he said. he told BBC Radio 4. Today program.
“The epidemic doubled every three to four days. If we had pushed back the interventions for a week, we would have reduced that and saved many lives.
Professor Ferguson said scientists were “increasingly concerned” that they had not implemented social distancing measures sooner.
In early March last year, UK government advice focused on the importance of hand washing and hygiene measures.
It was around this time that Mr Cummings said senior ministers and medical officials were pursuing a herd immunity strategy, suggesting that the ‘total assumption’ at Whitehall was that no vaccine would be available in 2020, so that suppressing the first wave of infection would only lead to increase later in the year.
He said it was hoped that herd immunity would be achieved by September after the first wave.
Asked about the accuracy of Mr Cummings’ statement, Professor Ferguson said he was not aware of the decisions taken by ministers.
“I will take his word and that of others for what was happening in government,” he said.
“On the scientific side, there was growing concern this week leading up to March 13 about the lack of a clear and resolute plan on what would happen in the coming days in terms of implementing social distancing.