Coronavirus: Scientists warn UK is not doing enough and Covid-19 could kill up to 70,000 without tougher measures

Modelling of the effect of Covid-19 on those with underlying health risks may have missed a large proportion of the population, warn researchers

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
@ShaunLintern
Monday 23 March 2020 14:51
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Coronavirus: 1.5 million 'vulnerable people' in UK will be asked at home for at least 12 weeks

The UK government must take tougher action to prevent Covid-19 killing between 35,000 and 70,000 Britons, scientists have warned today.

Researchers say that the current strategy of social distancing and self-isolation will not be enough to prevent tens of thousands of deaths over the next 12 months.

The study estimates what it calls “excess deaths” caused by Covid-19 in elderly people who have an underlying medical condition. It is based on NHS health records for 3.8 million adults in England and concludes that not enough is being done to protect and safeguard vulnerable people.

On Sunday, the prime minister announced a plan to “shield” 1.5 million people who were considered to be at high-risk from the virus with the army brought in to help supple them with essential food and medicine.

The team of clinicians, statisticians and epidemiologists from University College London, University College London Hospital, the University of Cambridge and Health Data Research UK said without strong suppression measures more people could die.

Lead author Dr Amitava Banerjee, associate professor in clinical data science, said: “The UK government is currently following a partial suppression policy of population-wide social distancing, combined with home isolation of cases, as well as school and university closures, but this is currently not mandated.

“Our study indicates that the government should implement more stringent suppression at population level to avoid not just immediate deaths but also long-term excess deaths.”

The study warns the Covid-19 pandemic may cause deaths among those infected as well as those not infected who have underlying conditions because of the impact on their lives and the ability of the NHS to care for their needs.

The scientists warn that the net effect of coronavirus must include modelling this wider societal impact and that about 20 per cent of the UK has one of the high-risk underlying conditions.

They said the current targeting of only 1.5 million people may mean many more are going unprotected.

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“Cardiovascular disease, for example, is not on the government list of conditions announced on Sunday," Dr Banerjee said. "But in this paper, we show that the one-year mortality for people with cardiovascular disease is 6 per cent; and for people with two or more underlying health conditions is 11 per cent.

“To date, only people with single disease risks have been included in the high-risk group, and not those with multiple diseases who are at a greater risk.”

The team added that their research is based on health records looking at only 5 per cent of the UK population and they have no access to the real-time data on how the coronavirus is spreading through the community.

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