Coronavirus deaths could have been reduced "by at least half" if the UK had gone into lockdown a week earlier, one of government's former key advisers has told MPs.
Professor Neil Ferguson, of London's Imperial College, said he believed the right decisions were taken by ministers over COVID-19 but questioned whether they were taken at the right time.
He told the House of Commons science committee of MPs: "The epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced.
"So, had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final toll by at least a half."
He continued: "Whilst I think the measures, given what we knew about this virus then in terms of its transmission and its lethality, were warranted – I wouldn't second-guess them at this point – certainly had we introduced them earlier, we would have seen many fewer deaths."
Prof Ferguson said he estimated that the number of deaths directly caused by coronavirus would be more than 50,000, meaning 25,000 lives could have been saved by going into lockdown a week earlier.
In March, Prof Ferguson estimated that the pandemic would cause at most 20,000 deaths.
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He told MPs that scientists had "underestimated how far into the epidemic this country was" in March.
He also said government advisers did not anticipate how high deaths in care homes would be, as they acted on the assumption that residents would be shielded.
When pressed about the comments at the government's daily coronavirus briefing, England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said there was a limited amount of information about the virus at the time.
"All such judgements will need to be examined in the fullness of time," he added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also defended the decision-making in the lead-up to lockdown and insisted the government had followed the advice of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).
Prof Whitty and the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance are among the scientists on SAGE, and Prof Ferguson was also a member until he was forced to quit after being caught breaking lockdown rules.
The lockdown measures were announced by the prime minister on 23 March and have been gradually eased since – "support bubbles" will be the next major change, to be introduced from the weekend.
Asked by Sky's Beth Rigby what the biggest regret is over the coronavirus response, Mr Johnson said "we're going to have to look back at all of it and the lessons we can learn," but that it was "premature" to do so now.
Mr Johnson opened the briefing by detailing the latest number of coronavirus-related deaths in the UK.
According to Department of Health figures, a further 245 people in the UK have died with coronavirus as of 5pm on TuesRead More – Source