Prof Neil Ferguson: Hospitals face being overwhelmed if UK fails to take tougher measures

Proposes households should not mix indoors, extension of school holidays and bars closed to limit infections

FILE PHOTO: Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson speaks at a news conference in London, Britain January 22, 2020, in this still image taken from video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS/File Photo
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UK government should consider extending school holidays and closing bars and restaurants to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed with new cases of Covid-19, a leading epidemiologist said on Tuesday.

Professor Neil Ferguson suggested that stopping households from mixing indoors was one way to limit the spread, while meeting outdoors remained relatively low risk.

The former government adviser, whose modelling triggered the country’s first lockdown, said cases were doubling every week in some areas with hospital admissions tracking the same path.

European governments face similar problems with Paris closing all bars and restaurants from today to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Similar measures were being introduced in Madrid, Spain.

“Admission to hospitals, hospital beds occupied with Covid patients and deaths are all tracking cases - they are at a lower level but they’re basically at doubling every two weeks,” Ferguson told the BBC. “We just cannot have that continuing indefinitely or the NHS [National Health Service] will be overwhelmed again.”

He stopped short on Tuesday of calling for schools and universities to close but said that alternative measures needed to be taken to limit contacts and reduce the impact on the NHS. “We have to accept in other areas we may have to give up more,” he said.

Mr Ferguson and his colleagues at Imperial College London were responsible for a modelling programme that warned of hundreds of thousands of deaths and influenced the UK’s decision to introduce a first lockdown on March 23. He has since said that half of those who died from Covid-19 in the UK could have survived if the lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.

He stepped down from his government role after breaking lockdown rules to meet his married lover.