UK scientist: Week earlier lockdown could have halved deaths

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly session of PMQs in Parliament in London, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

LONDON – A scientist whose modeling helped set Britain’s coronavirus strategy said Wednesday that the country’s death toll in the pandemic could have been cut in half if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.

Britain has the world's second-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths, at more than 41,000. Including cases where the coronavirus was suspected but not confirmed by a test, the total is over 50,000 people dead.

Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told lawmakers that when key decisions were being made in March, scientists underestimated how widely the virus had spread in the U.K.

He told Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee that “the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced,” rather than the five to six days estimated at the time.

Ferguson said that “had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”

He also said the death toll would have been lower if residents of nursing homes had been shielded from infection, something that didn't happen effectively enough.

Ferguson developed models that earlier this year predicted hundreds of thousands would die unless the U.K. imposed drastic restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On March 16, Ferguson and colleagues published a paper suggesting that even with some social distancing measures, the U.K. could see 250,000 virus-related deaths and the United States a death toll of about 1 million. Ferguson predicted those figures could more than double in both countries in a worst-case scenario.