The UK government was “too slow” in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and 40,000 people could die, a leading public health professor warned MPs today.
“Where were the system errors that led us to have probably the highest death rates in Europe?” Anthony Costello, professor of International Child Health and director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, told the Health and Social Care Committee.
“We have to face the reality of that: We were too slow with a number of things,” Costello told the committee.
“We could see 40,000 deaths by the time it’s over.”
The UK has suffered 14,576 deaths due to coronavirus, according to the latest figures.
That number does not include the latest deaths in care homes and outside hospitals.
Costello, a paediatrician who is an expert in epidemiology, said the UK must ensure it acts faster over a second wave of coronavirus infections.
He added that widescale testing was essential to deal with further spikes in numbers of Brits being infected by coronavirus.
“The recent estimates, even from the chief scientific officer, is that after this wave – we could see 40,000 deaths by the time it’s over,” he warned.
“We could only have maybe 10 per cent, 15 per cent of the population infected or covered,” he said.
“So the idea of herd immunity would mean another five, six waves maybe in order to get to 60 per cent,” he said. “We have got to pray the vaccinologists come up [with a vaccine].”
Health secretary Matt Hancock responded to Costello’s stark warning by saying mass community testing was part of the UK coronavirus strategy.
“It is part of the strategy, we will be introducing it when we can,” Hancock told the committee.
He said testing was being expanded to include the police, the fire service, prison staff, critical local authority staff, the judiciary, and the work and pensions ministry.
Hancock also voiced his concerns regarding the increase in deaths not related to Covid-19, an indication that patients are too frightened to visit hospitals during the pandemic.
“Far, far fewer people are coming forward,” he said. “We’d spent an awful lot of time driving up those coming forward for cancer treatment.
“And that has been brought to a juddering halt by this virus.”