Stark warnings from experts that 260,000 people could die in epidemic prompted Government to dramatically change battle plan after watching Italy’s spiralling death toll. Britain’s coronavirus shutdown could last for 18 months or more amid a frantic scramble for a vaccine that can stop the disease, scientists warned today.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last night that people should stop socialising, work from home, avoid travelling and that whole households should stay in isolation if one person becomes ill.
And a report by leading scientists who are advising the Government said people may need to keep up the drastic lifestyle change well into 2021.
The Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team predicted that 260,000 people could have died if the Government hadn’t changed tack yesterday and tightened its rules.
Now it could limit the fatalities to fewer than 20,000 by keeping people away from each other and slowing down the spread of the virus. One of the lead authors, Professor Neil Ferguson said it had become clear that the previous approach would still result in a ‘very large number of deaths’.
He said the science was continually shifting as more data became available, but what had been envisaged as the worst scenario had become ‘the most likely scenario’.
British officials only realised the danger ‘in the last few days’, the report said, after receiving new information about how the situation in Italy has spiralled out of control and overwhelmed hospitals. Around 2,200 people have now died there and there have been 28,000 confirmed infections, although the true toll is likely considerably higher.
Italy’s crisis has inspired a dramatic ramp-up of UK policy and Mr Johnson announced a move to war-footing to try and stop the outbreak.
The switch-up was an admission that officials’ original plans to control and slow the outbreak – to ‘flatten the curve’ – had been too optimistic and the scientists’ paper showed the Government was on course for a disaster.
Officials are urging manufacturers to help out by building intensive care ventilators if they can to plug an NHS shortfall in critical beds.
But data in the Imperial College report suggests that hospitals will be overwhelmed regardless of what measures the Government takes, and a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases is unavoidable.
Meanwhile, the government is preparing a massive package of aid designed to avoid the crisis effectively sending the country bankrupt.
Scrapping utility bills and cancelling council tax are among the extraordinary ‘wartime’ measures being mooted for the response, which will be unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak later. Some experts have suggested the government will have to pump an unprecedented £450billion into the economy to avoid mass destruction of businesses and workers being sent into poverty.