Monday, 26 October 2020

UK PM defends ‘astonishing’ response to virus

AFP Photo

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended what he called Britain’s “astonishing” efforts to tackle the coronavirus, rejecting accusations that with Europe s worst death toll, his response to the health crisis was badly lacking.

But a top scientist who had advised the government said the death toll could have been halved had lockdown measures been introduced a week sooner.

More than 40,000 people are confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in Britain s outbreak so far, although the figure rises to more than 50,000 when suspected cases are included.

On either measure, the toll is second only to that of the United States, although each country has different reporting methods and lag times — and the pandemic is far from over.

In a testy exchange with his opponents in parliament, Johnson cited the “astonishing achievement” by the state-run National Health Service in building a string of emergency field hospitals – many of which were barely used.

“It was an astonishing thing this country came together to drive down, to follow the social distancing rules… to get the epidemic under control in the way we have,” he said.

But an Imperial College London epidemiologist, who quit the government s crisis response team after being caught breaking social distancing rules in May, said thousands of lives could have been saved had a lockdown been imposed earlier.

“The epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced,” Neil Ferguson told a parliamentary science and technology committee hearing.

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

On March 13, the government s scientific advisory team concluded with “near certainty” that a lockdown such as that introduced in China at the time “will cause a second peak”.

Asked about Ferguson s comments, Johnson said it was premature to reach definitive conclusions.

“There is still too much we do not know,” he told reporters.

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