Government coronavirus advisor warns the next two weeks will be ‘very difficult’

One of the government’s top coronavirus advisors said has said the UK’s epidemic will get worse before it gets better with a ‘continuous tsunami’ of cases over the next fortnight. 

Professor Neil Ferguson said that around a third of people dying from the disease could be considered healthy but added that he thinks the NHS will now be able to cope with the outbreak thanks to a nationwide lockdown.  

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’.

That is because of the current lockdown, which could also mean the worst of the outbreak in intensive care units is likely to be over in two-and-a-half to three weeks’ time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 today

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 today

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 today

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 of mitigation. 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’.

Meanwhile, a study has suggested more years of life could be lost due to recession than will be gained through beating the virus.

If Britain sees a fall in gross domestic product of more than 6.4 per cent, the measures could ‘do more harm than good’, the Bristol University research suggests.

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