More than 20 British scientists, key officials and senior sources in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party knew that the coronavirus would seriously impact the UK in January, according to a Reuters investigation. The bombshell report suggests the sections of the government were already convinced that Britain was on the brink of a disastrous outbreak two months before any measures were imposed.
John Edmunds, a professor of infectious disease modelling said: “You know, there’s a small little cadre of people in the middle, who absolutely did realise what was going on, and likely to happen.”
From the beginning, Mr Edmunds said work by scientists had shown that, with only limited interventions, the virus would trigger an “overwhelming epidemic” in which Britain’s health service was not going “to get anywhere near being able to cope with it.
“That was clear from the beginning.”
But he said: “I do think there’s a bit of a worry in terms you don’t want to unnecessarily panic people.”
Government science advisers knew the virus would kill hundreds of thousands in the UK in January
The report suggests the government was too slow to act on what was considered inevitable
It wasn’t until early March that the government’s scientists revealed the extent to which COVID-19 had likely spread through the UK.
They said up to four-fifths of Britons could become infected and one in a hundred might die, and members of an official committee created a model that looked to predict the rise of coronavirus.
All of this was done on March 2.
Prediction models suggested over 500,000 people would die.
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Yet at the time it seemed a world away, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 3 his usual self, joking he was still shaking hands, including at a hospital he was aware was treating coronavirus patients.
His rhetoric was one of confidence, he said at the time: “Our country remains extremely well prepared.
“We already have a fantastic NHS fantastic testing systems and fantastic surveillance of the spread of disease.”
He said this at a Downing Street press conference, next to him was Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser and epidemiologist.
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He played-down models that suggested a possible 80 percent infection rate and the subsequent deaths, saying the number of people who would be infected was probably “a lot lower” and coming up with a total was “largely speculative.”
Reuters says the upbeat tone ran in stark contrast to the growing unease of many of the government’s scientific advisers behind the scenes.
For more than two months scientists who advised the government did not clearly signal their worsening fears to the public or the government.
The risk level set by the government until March 12 was set remained “moderate” suggesting only the possibility of a wider outbreak.
A live coronavirus map of the UK
Mr Johnson, who on Thursday left intensive care as he continues to battle the virus, was largely criticised in the beginning for not taking similar precautions to leaders around the world.
Interviews and records published so far suggest that the scientific committees that advised Johnson didn’t study, until mid-March, the option of the kind of stringent lockdown adopted early on in China, where the virus originated and began to rise in late December.
UK scientists were convinced that once the virus left China quarantine measures would likely not succeed.
On Thursday Rishi Sunak chaired an emergency Cobra meeting to review the current lockdown
Minutes of technical committees reviewed by Reuters indicate that almost no attention was paid to preparing a programme of mass testing.
The extent to which the virus has hit has led to calls for more transparency in government planning so ideas are open to challenge.
As of Friday 00:06am, over 1.5million people worldwide have contracted the virus, with 94,567 deaths.
In the UK, 65,077 have tested positive, while neatly 8,000 have died.