The human cost of delayed UK lockdown

I prefer looking forwards rather than backwards. And it’s easy, with hindsight, to criticise government policies. But….every day UK lockdown was delayed caused a significant increase in COVID-19 deaths. The cost of the UK’s delayed lockdown is getting intensified scrutiny due to an article in the Sunday Times. Here’s my take, based on modelling.

Lockdown policies across the globe mostly appear to have been successful in turning the tide in COVID-19 infections and deaths. And, the earlier lockdowns were introduced – the easier it’s been for countries to limit deaths and manage the spread of the virus. This has allowed earlier emergence from lockdown, paving the way for targeted social distancing policies to keep the R rate down and reinvigorate the economy.

Sadly, the UK was too late. The UK government started soft social distancing measures on 16 March – advising against essential travel and contact. But it wasn’t until 23 March that full lockdown was introduced. By this time, the virus was firmly embedded in many communities. So, UK death rates didn’t peak until 10 April, 18 days after the commencement of enforced social distancing.

I’ve built a model to forecast the impact of COVID-19 in the UK. It simulates the UK experience using a combination of assumptions. I’ve assumed that R was 3.0 at the start of the epidemic, then reduced on 16 March before falling to 0.84 after lockdown on 23 March – and later falling even further.

To analyse the impact of lockdown delay, I’ve modelled what would have happened if the UK lockdown measures had been introduced one week earlier than they actually were. The difference is stark, as illustrated below:

earlier lockdown totalearlier lockdown

According to my modelling, the number of UK reported deaths would now be 11,672 rather than 36,675, if social distancing policies had been introduced one week sooner. That is, one week could have saved 25,000 lives.

At least lockdown was eventually introduced, and it’s worked. Any further delay would have been even more catastrophic. But the UK has suffered doubly because of the government’s tardiness – an horrific death toll coupled with increased economic damage due to the time it’s taking to “control the virus”.

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