NHS now likely to cope with coronavirus, says key scientist – Neil Ferguson

The NHS is likely to cope with coronavirus now that Britain has gone into lockdown, according to the scientist behind tougher government measures.

Owl would dearly love to believe this – except Britain is not in “lockdown”. We are under a much softer  form of restriction because of Boris Johnson’s libertarian beliefs. There are still horrific pictures in the press of overcrowding on the London tubes, uncertainty over who should be working and who shouldn’t etc.

Yesterday, Owl reported on Jeremy Hunt’s demand that the government ramp up the rate of testing that remains at 5,000 day. Yesterday the new daily count of positive cases was 1,500 odd. In other words we are only really testing the seriously sick. As the author says only “large-scale testing and contact tracing” will allow normal life to start to resume…….”

Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor  www.thetimes.co.uk 

The NHS is likely to cope with coronavirus now that Britain has gone into lockdown, according to the scientist behind tougher government measures.

Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London said that after a scramble to set up thousands more intensive care beds and enforcement of social distancing he was confident that the health service would remain “within capacity”.

The worst of the first wave is likely to pass within three weeks and deaths could be “substantially lower” than 20,000, Professor Ferguson told MPs on the science and technology select committee.

However, only “large-scale testing and contact tracing” will allow normal life to start to resume without a resurgence of the virus, he said.

Professor Ferguson’s modelling prompted Boris Johnson to make an abrupt change of tack ten days ago after it concluded that a policy based on hand-washing and self-isolation of those with symptoms was likely to result in 250,000 deaths.

He is a key member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which is providing the evidence guiding Mr Johnson’s response to coronavirus.

Initially, the judgment was that there were “clear advantages economically to having it over by the summer” if NHS intensive care beds could cope, Professor Ferguson said.

However, the strategy was “slightly reluctantly” changed after updated information on NHS intensive care capacity and illness in China and Italy suggested that hospitals would be overwhelmed. It also became clearer that each unchecked infectious person passed the disease to three people on average, higher than the 2.5 previously estimated.

After adjusting models to take account of new rules requiring people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, Professor Ferguson told MPs: “There will be some areas that are extremely stressed but we are reasonably confident — which is all we can be at the current time — that at the national level we will be within capacity.”

He added: “If the current measures work as we would expect them then we will see intensive care demand peak in approximately two to three weeks and then decline.”

Deaths are “unlikely to exceed 20,000” and “could be substantially lower than that”, he projected. However, he said some hospitals were already overwhelmed and that parts of the country would be very badly hit, with the outbreak much more advanced in London.

There is widespread concern about whether the virus will rebound once restrictions on daily life are restricted and Professor Ferguson acknowledged: “We clearly cannot lock down the country for a year. The challenge that many countries in the world are dealing with is how we move from an initial intensive lockdown . . . to something that will have societal effects but will allow the economy to re-start.

 

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