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Hopes coronavirus lockdown could ‘keep infection at manageable levels’

Professor Neil Ferguson told the Science and Technology Committee measures taken by the Government could tip the outbreak to a declining epidemic.

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There are hopes lockdown could put coronavirus into decline (PA/Adam Davy)

There are hopes lockdown could put coronavirus into decline (PA/Adam Davy)

There are hopes lockdown could put coronavirus into decline (PA/Adam Davy)

The lockdown means the NHS should be able to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, an expert has said.

Professor Neil Ferguson, who is recovering from Covid-19 himself, told the Science and Technology Committee measures taken by the Government could tip the outbreak from a growing epidemic to a declining epidemic.

The director of MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Imperial College London, also explained there was some uncertainty, but that if current measures work as expected, then intensive care demand would “peak in approximately two to three weeks and then decline thereafter”.

Prof Ferguson told the committee current predictions were that the NHS would be able to cope if strict measures continued to be followed.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

He said: “There will be some areas that are extremely stressed but we are reasonably confident – which is all we can be at the current time – that at the national level we will be within capacity.”

Drinking from a Keep Calm and Carry On mug, he explained: “There will be some resurgence of transmission but the hope is that by employing more focused policies to suppress those local outbreaks, we can maintain infection levels at low levels in the country as a whole indefinitely.

“It remains to be seen how we achieve this and how practical it proves to be.”

Appearing via videolink, he added that it was “plausible” Covid-19 could behave like other coronaviruses and transmission could be somewhat reduced in the summer months but perhaps not by more than 10% to 20%.

Prof Ferguson said it was clear that the country could not be in lockdown for a year, and that “the long-term exit from this is clearly the hopes around a vaccine”.

He went on: “The challenge that many countries in the world are dealing with is how we move from an initial intensive lockdown… to something that will have societal effects but will allow the economy to restart.

“That is likely to rely on very large-scale testing and contact tracing.

“It should be stated that the entire world is in the very early stage of developing such strategies.”

The committee heard that the current strategy aim is to suppress transmission indefinitely until other counter-measures are put in place, including a vaccine.

And MPs were told that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready in as little as six months, although a timescale of 12-18 months was more likely.

Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity at the University of Oxford, said: “The estimates of one year to 18 months, it would certainly be very likely that we will have different candidates in that time that would have been through all that testing.

“I think it’s certainly possible with some candidates to be much, much sooner, maybe even this year to have a lot of data on whether they work and whether they can be useful for populations.”

He added that there should be support for firms to take the risk to invest in up-scaling manufacturing before testing is completed.

Asked whether 12 months was the earliest possible time that a vaccine could be ready, he said: “I believe that six months is possible, but it needs a lot of things to fall in place in order for that to happen, including for the up-scaling to go well, for the trials to be conducted in a way that allows us to demonstrate that there is efficacy.”

PA