Coronavirus: UK could be ‘worst affected’ country in Europe

Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the UK was likely to be “one of the worst, if not the worst affected country in Europe”.

Andrew Marr Show

Currently Italy has the highest number of deaths of any European country – with more than 19,000 deaths – followed by Spain, France and the UK, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Germany has kept deaths below 3,000 so far.

Sir Jeremy, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show the “remarkable” scale of testing in Germany had been key to keeping the number of hospital admissions for coronavirus lower than in the UK.

Sir Jeremy said testing allowed countries to isolate people with Covid-19, preventing them from transmitting the virus to others, as well as buying time for hospitals to prepare.

“Undoubtedly there are lessons to learn from that,” he added.

The UK government has said it wants to do 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April but has faced criticism for not increasing the number more quickly.

Sir Jeremy said a second or third wave of the virus “was probably inevitable” and treatment and a vaccine was “our only true exit strategy”.

He said a vaccine could be available by autumn but it would take longer to ramp up manufacturing to the scale required to vaccinate many millions of people.

“I would hope we would get [that] done in 12 months but that is in itself an unprecedented ambition,” he said.

Asked whether he agreed with Sir Jeremy’s analysis of the UK’s death rate, Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Different countries are at different stages of this cycle.”

“What we have done with the advice that we have now set out to people, to stay at home, is precisely because we want to make sure that we have a flattening of the curve, that infection rates aren’t going up, and ultimately people’s lives are being saved,” he told the programme.

“We are starting to see these measures work,” he added, but said it was too early for them to be lifted yet.

Prof Keith Neal, emeritus professor in the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said it was likely the UK would have one of the largest numbers of coronavirus deaths because it had the second largest population in Western Europe after Germany.

“The important figure is the death rate per million and not the total number of deaths. On this count Belgium seems to be heading for a serious problem like Italy and Spain,” he said.