Study that led Britain to reverse coronavirus plan projected 5 lakh deaths

Great Britain dramatically changed course on its coronavirus fight plan after an alarming study by researchers at the Imperial College showed that anything other than rapid suppression of the deadly infection could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The study, led by Professor Neil Ferguson, an expert on the spread of infectious diseases, was published on March 16. It is entitled the “Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand.”

It detailed three scenarios: One, where the government did nothing, two, where the government focused on mitigation, which is similar to the now-abandoned “herd immunity” plan of the UK, and suppression, which was aggressively undertaken by countries such as China and South Korea.

In the first scenario, the study said coronavirus would have caused 510,000 deaths in Britain and 2.2 million in the United States.

“Critical care bed capacity would be exceeded as early as the second week in April, with an eventual peak in ICU or critical care bed demand that is over 30 times greater than the maximum supply in both countries,” the study said.

In the second scenario, UK would see roughly 250,000 deaths and the US around 1.1-1.2 million deaths.

In the third scenario – including school closures, mandatory home quarantines and containment zones – the number of deaths fall to below 20,000 over a two year period.

“We therefore conclude that epidemic suppression is the only viable strategy at the current time. The social and economic effects of the measures which are needed to achieve this policy goal will be profound,” the study said.

The study said that 9% of people in the most vulnerable age group, 80 and older, could die if infected. The last time the world responded to a global emerging disease epidemic of the scale of the current COVID-19 pandemic with no access to vaccines was the 1918-19 H1N1 influenza pandemic, the study said.

After the study was made public, the UK government abandoned its herd immunity plan – under which authorities would isolate cases, but focus on select demographics getting the infection to grow immunity – and focus on aggressive containment, isolation, closures of schools, colleges and public spaces.