UK coronavirus outbreak: Science chief says 20,000 deaths in Britain is best case scenario

UK coronavirus outbreak: Science chief says 20,000 deaths in Britain is best case scenario

Sir Patrick was addressing the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday when he made the comments. His intervention comes as the UK’s number of cases of the deadly coronavirus, known as COVID-19, had risen to 1,950 at the time of writing – up 407 in 24 hours. A total of 55 people have currently died from the disease in Britain, with an update on the figures expected later on Tuesday.

Health and Social Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt, a former Health Secretary, asked the science official if the Government’s approach involved reducing the numbers of deaths from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands, which was a “much better picture than many might have feared”. 

Addressing the Committee Sir Patrick said: “That is the hope, that we can get it down to that.

“To put that into perspective, every year in seasonal flu the number of deaths is thought to be about 8,000.

“So if we can get this down to numbers of 20,000 and below, that is a good outcome.”

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But Sir Patrick acknowledged the number of deaths was still going to cause a significant strain on the NHS as the UK braces itself for the peak of the epidemic.   

The former NHS consultant said: “It is still horrible. That is still an enormous amount of deaths.

“It is still enormous pressure on the health service.

“And I know exactly what that looks and feels like.”

Sir Patrick also told MPs 55,000 infections would be a “reasonable ballpark figure” – but refused to commit to widespread COVID-19 testing.

After explaining the Government’s goal is to keep deaths below 20,000, he warned: “We simply do not have mass testing capacity available now.”

He added: “There are not enough tests.

“We have to ration them for use where needed.”

Sir Patrick went on to call for a “big increase” in the amount of testing that is done for the virus.

Asked if testing on the scale of South Korea was required, the chief scientific adviser said: “I think we need a big increase in testing. That’s what I’m pushing for very hard. Everyone is working hard to try and make that happen.”

But Sir Patrick said it was important not to have people turning up to hospitals for tests and instead a community-based approach was needed, possibly involving the private sector.

He said: “There is a lot of work going on in Public Health England, NHS and DHSC to select which test we should go for and how that can be ramped up – possibly, and I think quite rightly, by the private sector so we can get things out there fast on the community side, having the other parts of the testing controlled by Public Health England for the hospitals and the other bits that need to be done.”

Meanwhile, BBC Health Editor Hugh Pym warned NHS hospitals would be postponing non-urgent treatment amid the outbreak. 

He tweeted: “NHS England tells hospitals to postpone all non-urgent operations from April 15th for 3 months – freeing up 30,000 out of 100,000 general and acute beds in England.”

Published at Tue, 17 Mar 2020 14:46:00 +0000