Covid-19: Late lockdown in UK cost lot of lives, says expert



As the UK registered the second highest toll of 40,465 last week, an epidemiologist on a key government committee said on Sunday that ‘a lot of lives’ have been lost because the lockdown was imposed as late as March 23.

John Edmunds, who is on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) that provides scientific inputs to government decisions, believes that the lockdown in the UK should have been announced earlier. There have been 284,868 cases in the country so far.

Edmunds said: “We should have gone into lockdown earlier. I think it would have been very hard to pull the trigger at that point but I wish we had – I wish we had gone into lockdown earlier. I think that has cost a lot of lives unfortunately.”

But he told BBC that it would have been “hard to do it” earlier than March 23 because the data the Boris Johnson Government had in the early part of March and “our kind of situational awareness” was “really quite poor”.

The Johnson government has come under considerable criticism for its responses in the early stages of the pandemic. Chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance told MPs in March that a death toll of below 20,000 would be a ‘good result’ but the latest figure is double that estimate.

Health secretary Matt Hancock, however, responded to the criticism by insisting that the government had made the “right decisions at the right time” and had been guided by a “balance” of scientific opinions on the issue.

Asked if he was sure that the lockdown’s timing had not cost lives, he said: “I am sure, as I keep looking back on that period, I’m sure that taking into account everything we knew at that moment – my view is that we made the right decisions at the right time.”

“There’s a broad range on SAGE of scientific opinion and we were guided by the science which means guided by the balance of that opinion as expressed to ministers…That’s the right way for it to have been done”, Hancock added.

The Observer described the government’s response to the pandemic ‘dire’, calling for a public inquiry.

It said in an editorial on Sunday: “This is a pandemic that has tested the public health response of governments in every corner of the world. But the UK has performed poorly on any measure: the death toll is now more than double what the government’s scientific advisers said would be a ‘good outcome’, and, at this point, it has one of the worst excess deaths rates in the world”.

“Yet the prime minister has offered no apology for the serious mistakes the government has made so far: its haphazard procurement of protective equipment for frontline workers; the tragedy it did too little to prevent unfolding in Britain’s care homes; its unforgivably slow efforts to build up testing capacity”.

“All along, there have been worrying signs that this was a government prepared to put politics above pandemic management; in the past two weeks, that sense has only intensified as Johnson has rushed in multiple lockdown relaxations in what looks like an attempt to distract from the rule-breaking of his top adviser”.

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