Neil Ferguson’s Modelling that Led to Britain’s First Lockdown Based on ‘Inaccurate’ Case Data

Professor Lockdown’s modelling team did not have accurate Covid case numbers, and were unsure of hospitalisation and death rates when they published their models suggesting that more than 500,000 people could die if Britain took no action in the first wave of the pandemic, it has emerged after the Telegraph got hold of SAGE minutes with an FOI request. Sarah Knapton, the paper’s Science Editor, has more.

On March 16 2020, Imperial College published its ‘Report 9’ paper suggesting that failing to take action could overwhelm the NHS within weeks and result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Before the paper, the UK coronavirus strategy was to flatten the peak rather than suppress the wave, but after the modelling was made public, the Government made a rapid u-turn, which eventually led to lockdown on March 23rd.

However SPI-M (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling) minutes released to the Telegraph under a Freedom of Information request show that by March 16, modellers were still “uncertain” of case numbers “due to data limitations”.

The minutes show that members were waiting for comprehensive mortality data from Public Health England (PHE) and said that current best estimates for the infection fatality rate, hospitalisation rates, and the number of people needing intensive care were still uncertain.

They also believed that modelling only showed “proof of concept” that lockdowns could help, and warned that “further work would be required”.

The team was also encouraged to look for collaborators and resources outside of the infectious diseases network.

Imperial College held a press briefing about its model on the afternoon of March 16th, and on the same day, Boris Johnson ordered the public to avoid pubs, restaurants and non-essential contact and work from home if possible.

At the briefing, Prof Ferguson told journalists that the new conclusions had been reached because “the last few days” had provided “refinements” in the estimates of intensive care demand and hospital surge capacity.

But the minutes now show that SPI-M did not believe the data were complete.

Worth reading in full.

And if you can’t get past the Telegraph’s pay wall, MailOnline has published its own version of the story.

Stop Press: Carl Heneghan tells Julia Hartley-Brewer that the Imperial College modelling team’s mistakes were “inexcusable”.

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