Health experts fear coronavirus epidemic will ‘let rip’ through UK population

Doctors and public health officials have argued the government's coronavirus strategy could allow the disease to "rip" through the population.

On Thursday Boris Johnson announced that only the serious ill in hospital would be tested and that people with symptoms should self-isolate at home for seven days.

Mass gatherings would not be cancelled, the prime minister said, because doing so would not reduce the risk of mass infections.

Now Anthony Costello, a former director of the World Health Organisation and a UK paediatrician, has publicly called out the advice.

“You test the population like crazy, find out where the cases are, immediately quarantine them and do contact tracing and get them out of the community," he told The Guardian .

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"This deals with family clusters. That’s the key bedrock of getting this under control.”

The doctor said he had written to Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, urging him to continue testing in the community.

He suggested quarantining people had worked in countries like South Korea and Hong Kong, before criticising the lack of testing outside of hospitals.

Dr Costello added: “For me and the WHO people I have spoken to, this is absolutely the wrong policy. It would mean it just lets rip.”

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The editor-in-chief of the influential journal The Lancet, Richard Horton, criticized the UK's response to the crisis.

"To avoid an unmanageable catastrophe in the UK, we need to be honest about what seems likely to happen in coming weeks," he said.

"We need urgent surge capacity in intensive care. The NHS is not prepared.

"I am not being alarmist. What is happening in Italy is real and taking place now. Our government is not preparing us for that reality.

"We need immediate and assertive social distancing and closure policies. We need to prepare the NHS. This is a serious plea."

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s current director general, expressed concern about the end of contact tracing in the UK and other countries.

He said it was impossible to fight a virus "if you don't know where it is."

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the Government to publish its modelling so a wider pool of experts can scrutinise the plans.

"I just need to understand better why the Government is taking a different approach, based on its science, from other countries and I think that's why it is so important that all the scientific modelling, for example, is published," he told Sky's Ridge On Sunday.

There are those who have defended the Prime Minister however.

Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, told CNN : "I'm relatively impressed that unlike other political leaders, who've kind of bowed to the pressure of each other and their populations to implement school closures — which we don't have enough evidence to know if it will make a difference or not — Johnson is listening to the current evidence that's out there.

"He's not doing a Trump and shutting down borders, which we know will have no effect. He's taking a rather measured approach now — but yes, it's a gamble."

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