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COVID-19: Ministers should have ‘learned lessons properly’ from first wave, adviser says


The UK and other European countries locked down “too late” in autumn, a senior government scientific adviser has told Sky News.

Professor Neil Ferguson said ministers should have “learned the lessons properly from the first wave” to be in a “much better situation coming into Christmas”, given the vast speed at which coronavirus-related deaths grew.

He suggested autumn lockdowns did not last “long enough” and that politicians “could have responded faster” in the run up to the “stay at home” order being issued again at the start of 2021.

NERVTAG adviser Prof Neil Ferguson
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Prof Neil Ferguson said ministers should have ‘learned the lessons properly’

But Prof Ferguson, who sits on the government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, added measures like the creation of Tier 4 in England and the tightening of Christmas bubbles did help.

“We would have been in a much worse position had that not happened,” he told a special COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons programme on Tuesday night.

The new variant discovered in Kent in December did “in some ways come out of the blue”, Prof Ferguson continued.

But he added: “You just need to look at the data – well over half of the people who died in this pandemic in this country have died in the last eight weeks…

“If you lock down earlier, you don’t suffer the same deaths and paradoxically there isn’t a trade off with the economy because you probably can lift lockdown measures earlier too you just keep infection levels low.”

So far 113,849 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus – double the number of fatalities there were on 22 November 2020.

Sir David Nicholson, a former chief executive of NHS England, also pressed the case for an inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic – something Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said is not the right time for yet.

“How on earth are we going to get better?” Sir David asked.

“The way you get better is to recognise what you’ve done and then change as you go forward. It doesn’t take a genius to work out.”

Over three nights Sky News will host a series of special programmes examining the UK’s response to the pandemic.

Watch COVID Crisis: Learning the Lessons at 8pm on 9, 10 and 11 February.



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