By Arj Singh
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The UK is “likely” to end up with one of the worst coronavirus death rates in Europe, if not the worst, one of the government’s scientific advisers has warned.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is a member of the key Sage scientific committee advising ministers, said the number of deaths were continuing to rise.
He said he “hoped” that the UK was “coming close to the number of new infections reducing” followed by the number of people needing hospital treatment falling “in a week or two” and then the number of deaths plateauing in around two weeks and then falling.
“But yes, the UK is likely to be certainly one of the worst, if not the worst affected country in Europe,” Farrar added while speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
@AndrewMarr9 Jeremy Farrar heads up coalition for epidemic preparedness innovation coordinating global efforts to produce a coronavirus and is advisor to German government. Says we may have highest deaths in Europe. Germany applied WHO approach – testing and tracing – we didn’t. pic.twitter.com/g68kj4Nd8M
— Peter Kay (@theonlypeterkay) April 12, 2020
The number of people who have died in UK hospitals after contracting coronavirus rose to 9,875 on Saturday – an increase of 917 over 24 hours, close to the death rates seen as Italy and Spain’s epidemics peaked.
Farrar suggested the likes of Germany had been able to keep deaths down by rolling out mass testing in the early stages of the nations’ outbreaks.
The infectious diseases expert said continued testing in the community would “buy you time” to deal with the crisis, giving an additional six to eight weeks to ensure health systems were up to capacity.
“Undoubtedly there are lessons to learn from that,” the Wellcome Trust director said.
Business secretary Alok Sharma refused three times to say whether he agreed with Farrar’s assessment, saying only that it was a “tough time” for people and businesses.
“What we have done throughout this process is make sure that we have followed the scientific advice and we will continue to do that,” Sharma told Marr.
Asked again if the UK would be one of the worst hit countries, Sharma said: “Different countries are at different stages of this cycle.
“What we have seen is the measure that we have announced having an effect.”
Asked again if he acknowledged that the UK’s trajectory suggested it would be one of the worst hit countries, Sharma replied: “What I acknowledge is that – and I am very sorry for this – that a number of people have very sadly lost their lives as a result of this global pandemic.
“But we are seeing this across the world. We are at different trajectories.”
Meanwhile, Farrar said there was evidence that black and other ethnic communities were more at risk from Covid-19.
He told the BBC: “There is some evidence growing both in the United States and here in Europe that people from BAME backgrounds are more at risk.
“What is critical to work out is whether that is something specific to that background or is it related to other risk factors we know about – age, other illness people have: diabetes, people who are obese have been more affected, people with high blood pressure, people with heart disease, lung disease.”
The medical expert said there had also been “almost 100 reports” of cases in South Korea where people had seemingly re-contracted coronavirus, casting fresh doubt over how long post-infection immunity was thought to last.
This could hurt the UK’s ability to try and exit the lockdown using “immunity passports” which are reportedly being considered by the government, and may also hamper efforts to develop an effective vaccine.
“It is critical to understand whether that is one viral infection that has persisted in an individual for a considerable time and has now reactivated or whether they have been infected with a second virus,” said Farrar.
“Either way, it suggests that immunity perhaps in some people is not complete and that has major ramifications for the ability to make a vaccine and for the community to be protected against future waves.”