UK 'should exit lockdown more quickly as coronavirus has already infected half the population'

Ellen Manning
·3-min read
Embargoed to 0001 Monday May 18 File photo dated 24/03/20 of cyclists riding across an empty Westminster Bridge in Westminster, London, the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. More than a third of people say they could rethink the way they travel after the coronavirus pandemic, a new survey suggests.
New normal: Britain has been in lockdown since March 23. (Picture: PA)

A leading scientist has called for UK lockdown rules to be loosened more quickly, as the coronavirus pandemic has already infected half of Britain’s population and is “on its way out”.

Prominent Oxford epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta told that the UK had based its handling of the crisis on the worst-case scenario and called for a ‘more rapid exit from lockdown’.

Prof Gupta also argued that there is a “strong possibility” that the UK could return to normal, including pubs, nightclubs and restaurants reopening, without great risk.

Earlier this month Boris Johnson eased lockdown restrictions, saying pubs, bars and restaurants may be able to reopen in July but only if certain conditions are met around the spread of the virus.

Prof Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said the government had introduced lockdown based on the worst-case scenario modelling by Imperial College London, which in March suggested COVID-19 had a deaths-to-cases ratio of up to 1.4%, reducing to 0.66% when allowing for undiagnosed cases.

Her own team produced a rival model, also in March, which speculated that as many as 50% of Britons may have already been infected with the virus.

Asked for her updated ratio, she said the epidemic had “largely come and is on its way out in this country”.

On Thursday the ONS published its second snapshot of people with coronavirus in the community in England, finding that 137,000 people – 0.25% of the population – had coronavirus at any given time during the two weeks from May 4-17.

She said: “The question is, should we act on a possible worst case scenario, given the costs of lockdown?

“It seems to me that given that the costs of lockdown are mounting, that case is becoming more and more fragile.”

Prof Gupta said it was possible that Britain could have fared better by doing “nothing at all” or by concentrating on protecting those most vulnerable to coronavirus.

“Remaining in a state of lockdown is extremely dangerous from the point of view of the vulnerability of the entire population to new pathogens,” she added.

“Effectively we used to live in a state approximating lockdown 100 years ago, and that was what created the conditions for the Spanish Flu to come in and kill 50m people.”

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