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expert comments about the UK’s response to COVID-19 so far

Comments on the UK’s response to COVID-19 so far.


Dr Mike Turner, Director of Science, Wellcome Trust, said:

“There is an incredibly difficult balancing act going on.  Being too slow to react has potentially dangerous consequences.  Over-reacting is also potentially dangerous, though for different reasons.  And the core difficulty is that we are still learning about this virus and what is similar to things we know about other coronaviruses and things that are different.

“There is limited evidence that closing schools and postponing sporting fixtures makes much material difference.  Each country is making the best call they can on such issues with limited information and there is no ‘correct’ answer here.  Even if there were, a ‘correct’ answer today may not be tomorrow because events are changing so rapidly.”


Prof Jimmy Whitworth, Professor of International Public Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“I think what the government should be doing is introducing the strongest social distancing measures that they believe will be acceptable to the British public.  If you don’t have public support, your control measures will not work.

“It is a justifiable strategy to try to slow down transmission and spread it out.”


Dr Thomas House, Reader in Mathematical Statistics, University of Manchester, said:

“At this stage, there is a diversity of opinion, but I would argue for a focus on quality over quantity of measures – ensuring that people are able to take adequate sick leave, and are supported in whatever ways are needed to make interventions effective and safe, for example.”


Prof Martin Hibberd, Professor of Emerging Infectious Disease, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“The UK response has clearly not been sufficient, as numbers are continuing to climb and we are at risk of following the trajectory of other European countries.

“If the aim is simply to delay the peak of the outbreak till the summer, then perhaps the UK response is enough.  However, WHO is challenging the world to do more and we know from China that aggressive curtailment policies can work to reduce numbers.

“But following China, as Italy is moving towards, is not an easy path for many reasons. I would advocate for the UK to follow a more nuanced approach, such as that being adopted by Singapore; which appears to be effective to at least contain numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“In this approach, extensive contact tracing and SARS-CoV-2 testing is able to rapidly identify new cases and fully isolate them.  When put together with other social distancing measures (that do not include ‘lock down’ of areas – even the schools are open), some confidence is gained that the pandemic can be more controllable and shops can remain open.

“To do this, the UK would need to rapidly increase its testing facilities and target to test every possible case, together with other social distancing tools to make this work.  They could start by testing everyone in parliament to understand the nature of any cases there.”


Prof Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Now is the time for the UK government to ban large gatherings, ask people to stop non-essential travel, recommend employers shift to home working and ramp up the response.  The curve can be shifted (like South Korea and Singapore) but only with government action.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:

The SMC also produced a Factsheet on COVID-19 which is available here:


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