/Coronavirus will kill 250,000 in the UK unless Britain is put in lockdown

Coronavirus will kill 250,000 in the UK unless Britain is put in lockdown

250,000 could die
The death toll in the UK currently stands at 55, but that figure is expected to rise

Around 250,000 people will die in Britain as a result of the coronavirus outbreak unless more draconian measures are adopted to protect the population, scientists have warned.

The Imperial College Covid-19 response team – which has been advising ministers – said that even with the ‘social distancing’ plans set out by the Government, the health system will be ‘overwhelmed many times over’. In its latest report, it said the only ‘viable strategy’ was a Chinese-style policy of ‘suppression’ involving the social distancing of the entire population.

It said such measures would need to be maintained potentially for 18 months or more until an effective vaccine became available. The stark warning came after Boris Johnson on Monday unveiled unprecedented peacetime measures to try to control the spread of Covid-19.

They were announced as the death toll of people with coronavirus in the UK reached 55. In the first of his daily No 10 press conferences, the Prime Minister called on people to stay away from pubs, clubs and theatres and to avoid all non-essential contacts and travel.

In other developments:

  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak will set out a new package of support for businesses hit by the outbreak less than a week after announcing £12 billion of emergency funding in the Budget
  • The Government will lay out emergency legislation expected to include powers for police to detain people to stop them spreading the virus and allowing hospitals to send patients home to free up beds
  • All non-essential access to the Houses of Parliament has been stopped and MPs and peers over the age of 70 or with underlying health problems have been urged to heed Government advice
  • The Prime Minister has held a conference call with manufacturing firms and organisations urging them to step up production of ventilators and other vital medical equipment

Under the latest Government advice, anyone living in a household with somebody who has the symptoms of a persistent cough or fever was told to isolate themselves for 14 days.

For all the latest news and updates on Coronavirus, click here.

Special guidance will be issued by the NHS for the 1.4 million people most at risk from the disease – including the elderly with underlying health conditions – on further measures they need to take to ‘shield’ themselves.

Mr Johnson said the measures were needed as the UK was approaching the ‘fast growth part of the upward curve’ in the number of cases.

‘Without drastic action, cases could double every five or six days,’ he said.

However, the Imperial College report warned that even with such a dramatic closing down of normal life, the capacity of health systems in the UK and the US – which is adopting similar measures – was likely to be ‘exceeded many times over’.

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profile of the epidemic under different approaches coronavirus graph
The current plan is to prolong the outbreak so that the NHS can cope with demand

‘In the most effective mitigation strategy examined, which leads to a single, relatively short epidemic (case isolation, household quarantine and social distancing of the elderly), the surge limits for both general ward and ICU (intensive care unit) beds would be exceeded by at least eight-fold under the more optimistic scenario for critical care requirements that we examined,’ it said.

Signs for coronavirus testing at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday March 2, 2020. Scotland will continue with "business as usual" even in the event of coronavirus spreading across the country, according to its chief medical officer. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus Scotland. Photo credit should read: Jane Barlow/PA WireSecond patient in Scotland dies after catching coronavirus

‘In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 250,000 deaths in GB, and 1.1 to 1.2 million in the US.’

The report said there was no alternative but to move to a policy of total ‘suppression’ involving the social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of family members.

Even then, it said it was ‘not at all certain’ that the strategy would succeed in the long term.

‘The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound,’ it said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on Coronavirus (COVID-19) after he had taken part in the government?s COBRA meeting. Picture date: Monday March 16, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Richard Pohle/The Times/PA Wire
Mr Johnson said the measures were needed as the UK was approaching the ‘fast growth part of the upward curve’ (Picture: PA)

‘No public health intervention with such disruptive effects on society has been previously attempted for such a long duration of time. How populations and societies will respond remains unclear.’

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby during the Christmas Day service at Canterbury Cathedral. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday December 25, 2019. See PA story RELIGION Christmas. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA WireWeddings and funerals can still go ahead despite coronavirus

In response, a Government spokesman said the recommendations put forward by its Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) were in line with ‘best current evidence’.

‘This is a very fast-moving situation. In order to give the most robust scientific advice, Sage draws upon and considers a range of evidence and views to reach its recommendations,’ the spokesman said.

‘Part of this evidence includes the latest modelling data from a number of experts. All Sage recommendations are in line with the best current evidence. We will be publishing further evidence shortly.’

The Imperial College report said it had only reached its conclusions in the last few days based on experience in Italy and the UK.

A woman wearing a face mask and protective gloves with supplies at a supermarket in York as shoppers purchase supplies amid the coronavirus pandemic. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday March 16, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
People have been told to work from home where possible (Picture: PA)

At his news conference, Mr Johnson said the latest Government measures represented a ‘very substantial change’ in the way it was asking people to live their lives that was unprecedented in peacetime.

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He said they represented ‘a very considerable psychological, behavioural change’ but he said he had ‘absolutely no doubt’ the country could do it.

The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, insisted the measures would have a ‘big effect’ on the spread of the virus.

‘This is not a series of small interventions. You would anticipate that this could have a dramatic effect to reduce the peak and to reduce death rates,’ he said.

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