400,000 Brits could die if coronavirus sweeps UK uncontrolled, leading expert warns – Evening Standard

Coronavirus could kill 400,000 people in the UK if it sweeps across the country, a leading expert has warned.

Scientist Professor Neil Ferguson, of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said “this is the one I’m scared of” when asked about the killer virus, known as Covid-19, in an interview with Channel 4.

When asked if the virus could spread to 60 per cent of the UK population – which latest estimates suggest could happen across the world if the virus is not controlled – Prof Ferguson said “potentially”.

At a mortality rate of one per cent, this would mean 400,000 people could die from the illness in the UK.

Prof Ferguson said: “Given what we know a lot about how these sort of viruses are spread, we have lots of data from past epidemics, from influenza.

“Given how transmissible this virus appears to be and that fact that at least all adults can be infected, we have much less data in children, then 60 per cent is a reasonable figure for epidemic size within the first 12 months or so.

“What we don’t know at the moment is if everybody infected, what proportion might die and what are the risk groups.

“Our best estimates at the moment is that maybe one per cent of people who get infected might die.”

He added: “I would emphasise that at the moment, putting numbers like 400,000 isn’t necessarily helpful because we have so little information.

“It’s not an absurd number… I would much prefer to be accused of overreacting than underreacting, let’s put it that way.”

It comes have health officials contacted more than 200 people who attended a conference in central London after it emerged one delegate is suffering from coronavirus.

Public Health England (PHE) sent a letter to those who were at the UK Bus Summit at the QEII Centre in Westminster on February 6, including several MPs, two of whom have now decided to stay mostly at home.

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The person taken ill is one of the nine people diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK.

Dr Yimmy Chow, consultant in health protection at PHE, said: “One of our main priorities has been to identify any people who we think have been in close contact with confirmed cases of Covid-19 to provide public health advice, as they may be at slightly increased risk of catching the virus.

“While the degree of contact conference delegates may have had with the case is unlikely to have been significant, we have taken a precautionary approach and informed them of the situation.”

It is understood the bus summit case is not linked to the UK’s ninth case of coronavirus, who is a Chinese woman.

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It comes as United Airlines confirmed it offered assistance at Heathrow Airport on Friday after a passenger fell ill on one flight.

Reports on social media suggested the person involved may have had symptoms of coronavirus.

At least one more plane has been held at Heathrow for checks.

United Airlines said in a statement: “Our team at London Heathrow Airport is providing assistance related to United flight 901 (San Francisco-London Heathrow) today, following reports of an individual becoming unwell onboard.

“The safety of our customers and employees is our highest priority and we continue to work closely with local authorities.”

Andy West, from Henley-on-Thames, said passengers were warned by the United plane’s captain that they could be on the tarmac for a while because “seven other planes” in the same situation had also landed at Heathrow.

He did not see the ill person or any medics enter the aircraft.

Passengers were allowed to disembark half-an-hour later.

Meanwhile, a Channel 4 employee is among those being tested for coronavirus after feeling unwell following a trip to Asia.

A Channel 4 spokesman said: “On Thursday, a member of staff at Channel 4 who had travelled to Asia within the last month felt unwell.

“As a precautionary measure, they decided to seek medical advice and, in line with the latest public health advice regarding the coronavirus, they were taken to hospital for a precautionary test.

“We have informed our staff of this and continue to follow all the latest public health guidance.”

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said on Thursday that many more people in the UK may need to self-isolate to contain the illness, which has been officially named Covid-19.

In mainland China, the death toll from Covid-19 has passed 1,500 after health authorities reported another 143 deaths early on Saturday morning. That increase saw the total reach 1,523 deaths.

However authorities also said the latest 2,641 daily new cases of the virus represented a “major drop”, due to the widespread implementation of a new diagnostic method.

The total number of confirmed cases globally now stands at more than 67,000.

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