Coronavirus advisor warns the next two weeks will be 'very difficult'

Government coronavirus advisors say crisis will be ‘over by Easter’ but warn the next two weeks will see a ‘continuous tsunami of cases’ – as they warn a THIRD of deaths are ‘healthy people’

  • Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, gave the warning
  • He said around two in three fatalities were likely already dying of something else
  • But the government lockdown raises the prospect of a shortened outbreak 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

One of the government’s top coronavirus advisors said the UK’s epidemic will get worse before it gets better but the peak of it could pass by Easter. 

Professor Neil Ferguson added that around a third of people dying from the disease could be considered healthy.

But he thinks the NHS will now be able to cope with the outbreak thanks to the nationwide lockdown that was put in place this week.

Despite fears over a lack of intensive care beds and staff going off sick, Professor Ferguson, from Imperial College London, yesterday told MPs that he is confident the health service will remain ‘within capacity’.

But the CEO of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals around the country, warned medics are already facing a ‘continuous tsunami’ of patients and that the ‘explosion’ of cases was bigger than they had imagined. 

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries agreed yesterday that she hoped the peak of the virus could be finished by Easter. 

People Enjoy the sun in St James’ Park in central London The prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted at the pubic should stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus

Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, speaking via video link about the coronavirus outbreak at the Science and Technology Committee at the House of Commons in London yesterday

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Ferguson said: ‘London is going to be very difficult in the next two to three weeks. 

‘All I would say is, with the lockdown now in place, those numbers are going to start to plateau. The challenge we have is there’s a lag. 

‘The people being admitted to hospital right now were infected a week, two weeks, even sometimes three weeks ago, so without doubt the next one [or] two weeks are going to be very difficult.’   

Chief of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said on Today that hospitals in London were already struggling but were coping with a huge rise in cases.

He said extra capacity which had been added to deal with the crisis was welcome but was being filled up very quickly – and the Excel conference centre, which is being turned into a field hospital with 4,000 beds – would fill up quickly, too.

Mr Hopson said hospitals had been staggered by ‘the number of patients that are arriving, the speed with which they’re arriving and how ill they are. 

‘They talk about wave after wave after wave; the word that’s often used to me is a continuous tsunami and I think, as one CEO said to me yesterday, this is much bigger and much larger numbers with a greater degree of stretch than you ever have possibly imagined.’    

Prince Charles, pictured with the Queen on March 9, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus 

People enjoy the sun in Battersea Park in South West London while the UK is in a coronavirus lockdown


It is hoped that once the coronavirus lockdown is lifted the infection can be kept at manageable levels, an expert has said.

Professor Neil Ferguson, who is recovering from COVID-19 himself, told the Science and Technology Committee measures taken by the Government could tip the outbreak from a growing epidemic to a declining epidemic.

He also explained there was some uncertainty, but that if current measures work as expected, then intensive care demand would ‘peak in approximately two to three weeks and then decline thereafter’.

Professor Ferguson, of Imperial College London, told the committee current predictions were that the NHS would be able to cope if strict measures continued to be followed.

He said: ‘There will be some areas that are extremely stressed but we are reasonably confident – which is all we can be at the current time – that at the national level we will be within capacity.’

Drinking from a Keep Calm and Carry On mug, he explained: ‘There will be some resurgence of transmission but the hope is that by employing more focused policies to suppress those local outbreaks, we can maintain infection levels at low levels in the country as a whole indefinitely.

‘It remains to be seen how we achieve this and how practical it proves to be.’

Appearing via videolink, he added that it was ‘plausible’ COVID-19 could behave like other coronaviruses and transmission could be somewhat reduced in the summer months but perhaps not by more than 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

Professor Ferguson said it was clear that the country could not be in lockdown for a year, and that ‘the long-term exit from this is clearly the hopes around a vaccine’.

‘The challenge that many countries in the world are dealing with is how we move from an initial intensive lockdown… to something that will have societal effects but will allow the economy to restart,’ he said.

‘That is likely to rely on very large-scale testing and contact tracing.

‘It should be stated that the entire world is in the very early stage of developing such strategies.’

The committee heard that the current strategy aim is to suppress transmission indefinitely until other counter-measures are put in place, including a vaccine.

It was also told that widespread testing was needed to help move the country from suppression measures and lockdown into something the country can manage longer-term.

Earlier this month Professor Ferguson, a key member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), produced a report suggesting more than 20,000 people might die from coronavirus.

But yesterday he told Parliament’s science and technology committee that the death toll could be ‘substantially lower than that’.

On Radio 4 today he added that most of the people who were dying were already sick, potentially terminally ill, and would probably have died soon without the virus.

‘Looking at the profile of deaths we see and looking at the expected mortality in those groups… about two thirds of people who are unfortunately affected by this virus are towards the very end of their lives anyhow, we estimate,’ he said.

‘I should say it still leaves a third, and we have heard cases of really quite healthy, young and, indeed, old people who have been affected and died because of this virus.

‘I think this is important to bear in mind but really shouldn’t affect the decisions we make.’  

In even more hopeful news, Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity at the University of Oxford, who was also called before the science committee, said a vaccine could be available within six months.

Previously many experts have said a vaccine which could end the devastation of the pandemic is at least a year away. 

‘I believe that six months is possible, but it needs a lot of things to fall in place in order for that to happen,’ Professor Pollard said.

On the NHS, Professor Ferguson said: ‘With the strategy being adopted now, we think that in some areas ICUs (intensive care units) will get very close to capacity but that it will not be breached at a national level.’

He said some regions would be ‘extremely stressed’ by the surge of patients. 

But he added: ‘We are reasonably confident – it’s all we can be at the current time – that at the national level we will be within capacity.’

A study involving Professor Ferguson had predicted 250,000 people could die in the UK under the Government’s previous strategy, which was focused on controlling the disease spread rather than trying to stop it.

He said: ‘We assessed in that report… that fatalities would be probably likely to exceed about 20,000 with effectively a lockdown and social distancing strategy, but it could be substantially lower than that.’

But chief medical officer Chris Whitty said there was no guarantee the NHS would not exceed its capacity, although the lockdown and NHS work to increase resources would narrow the ‘gap’. 

Officials, scientists and doctors will all be watching UK hospitals in the coming days and weeks to see whether the dramatic lockdown measures are working. 

The UK has recorded 43 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours compared to 87 on Tuesday, but new infections increased by a record 1,452 to 9,529 as Britons continued to flout the lockdown.

Twenty-eight more patients died in England, six more patients died in Scotland, five in Wales and four in Northern Ireland – bringing the total death toll to 465.

A man and a woman embrace in Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester on Wednesday despite the strict lockdown

Members of the public on the seafront in Portsmouth today after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown

They included a 47-year-old who did not have any other health problems. The others who died, including one person aged 93, did have underlying health conditions.  

Despite the death rate falling by half between Tuesday and Wednesday, the country yesterday saw a record spike in the number of cases, with 1,452 more patients known to have caught the deadly virus, bringing the total number of cases to 9,529.

The Department of Health and Social Care late on Wednesday evening confirmed a total of 97,019 people have been tested with found 87,490 negative. The update said that 463 people had been killed by the virus, but it added that the data did not cover a 24 hour period.

The update for the previous death toll on Tuesday was at 1pm, so the data only covers from then until 9am Wednesday, which would explain some if not all of the difference in the death rate.

Scotland only announced two deaths on Tuesday, while Wales confirmed just one. Both countries have now had 22 coronavirus victims.

Northern Ireland this afternoon announced two more fatalities as well as two last night, taking their total to seven deaths. 

The true size of the outbreak is unclear because only patients in hospital are routinely tested. The true size of the outbreak is likely to be closer to the 400,000 mark, experts have said.

Despite clear government guidance, members of the public are continuing to the rules by heading out to sunbathe on the second day of the coronavirus lockdown.

Footage has emerged showing police dispersing Britons gathering in parks and other public places, with people gathering despite strict advice to stay at home yo avoid the outbreak overwhelming the NHS.

In Shepherd’s Bush in West London, people soaked up the sun, seemingly oblivious to the tight restrictions imposed by the government on Monday. Police were seen telling the sun worshipers to leave and go home.

Others were seen enjoying the weather at Battersea Park in South West London, on the beach in Portsmouth and in the sea off Eastbourne today despite the Prime Minister urging people to stay at home. 

Meanwhile in Manchester, officers today dispersed groups, some of which greeted each other with a hug, along with sunbathers in Piccadilly Gardens. Police also used megaphones to tell people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary, saying ‘this is serious, we need to beat corona.’  


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