The UK may have left it ‘too late’ to impose a coronavirus lockdown and stop millions of people getting COVID-19

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Reuters

  • The UK needs to ‘radically change direction’ and start doing far more tests for possible cases of the coronavirus, according to the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

  • Boris Johnson announced strict new lockdown measures on Monday, meaning people are only allowed to leave their homes to pick up essential supplies and exercise once a day.

  • But Hunt, speaking before the lockdown was announced, said the UK needed to introduce testing as well as new social distancing rules, warning that up to a million people could be infected by the end of next week and said the UK lockdown may be “too late.”

  • He said: ‘How can we possibly suppress the virus if we do not know where it is?’

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The UK government may have left it “too late” to impose its national coronavirus lockdown, with around one million people likely already infected by next week, the UK’s former health secretary has warned.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday evening announced a strict national lockdown, which means people are only allowed to leave their homes to buy essential supplies and to exercise once a day.

Johnson hopes the measures will slow the spread of the disease in the UK, where there were 6,650 confirmed cases and 335 deaths as of Monday 23 March.

But Jeremy Hunt, who served as health secretary for six years until 2018, told the House of Commons on Monday, shortly before the new measures were announced, that so-called “social distancing” measures alone would not be enough to contain the disease.

And in a stark warning, Hunt warned that it may be “too late” to prevent the UK following the same trajectory as Italy, which has recorded a death toll over over 6,000 to date, but he said the lockdown measures introduced by Boris Johnson shortly afterwards were the only ones which gave Britain “any chance at all of doing so.”

Hunt said the government’s decision to stop testing so-called community cases — those people who have not been admitted to hospital — should be reversed, and urged the government to follow the example of countries including South Korea and Singapore.

Those countries have pursued an aggressive strategy of testing larger numbers of suspected coronavirus carriers than the UK, then isolating individual cases and tracing everyone they had been in contact with.

“Ten days ago in this country, we went in the opposite direction, and stopped testing in the community,” he said.

“How can we possibly suppress the virus if we do not know where it is? So far, we have had 281 deaths, tragically.

“According to the modellers, there is about one death per 1,000 cases, which means that we have just under 300,000 cases in this country.

“According to the same modellers, the number of cases is doubling every five days, which means that at the end of next week we will have about 1 million cases or more in this country. Unless we radically change direction, we will not know where those 1 million cases are.”

The more aggressive testing strategies appear to have been highly successful to date. In South Korea and Singapore, just two people in each country have died after testing positive for the disease, while in the UK, there have been 281 deaths so far.

Announcing the new lockdown measures on Monday evening, Boris Johnson said people would for at least three weeks be allowed to leave their homes only for “very limited purposes,” which include shopping for essentials, collecting medicine, exercising once a day, and travelling to and from work where it was not possible to work at home.

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