The UK government is facing tough questions over the timing of its coronavirus lockdown after influential epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said the United Kingdom could have cut the number of Covid-19 deaths by half if it had locked down just one week earlier.
Ferguson, who is based at Imperial College London, made the comments to the UK Parliament's Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday.
"The epidemic was doubling every 24 days before lockdown interventions were introduced. So had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half," he said.
The UK went into lockdown on March 23, later than many other European nations. It currently has the second-highest number of recorded coronavirus-related deaths in the world, with 41,128 as of June 9, according to UK government figures.
Ferguson said the lockdown measures introduced on March 23 were warranted but were "second-guessed" at the time. "Certainly had we introduced them earlier, we would have seen many fewer deaths," he said.
Asked what the UK coronavirus response should focus on going forward, Ferguson said more targeted interventions were needed in order to lift the nationwide lockdown.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed back on the criticism, saying his government had followed scientific advice at the time -- including from Ferguson as a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) -- and that it was too early to cast judgment on the decisions made.
"Of course, we’ve got to learn lessons but I just think that it is at this stage premature. There’s still too much that we don’t know," Johnson said.
Johnson’s government has scrapped its original plan to reopen primary schools before the summer holidays, but announced it would allow adults living alone or single parents to form a “support bubble” with one other household.
Some context: Ferguson was one of the architects of the UK government's stay-at-home strategy and was a prominent member of SAGE, but he resigned from his government adviser post in May after the Telegraph newspaper revealed he broke lockdown rules by allowing his reported lover to visit his home.