Image Simon Dawson/Reuters

By Sam:

Yesterday Professor John Edmunds said that the covid lock down should have been earlier and that many lives were lost as a result. On the same day’s Andrew Marr show, Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, disputed this opinion.

“No, I think we took the decision at the right time,” he claimed.

Byline Times can say something about what SAGE scientists were thinking back then. “There was universal agreement that timing was crucial in a pandemic setting. “The timing is critical and that is true across all of the interventions we have looked at,” Vallance said on 12 March.

Talking about their plan of action and how people may lose interest if asked to sustain measures too long, Whitty added:

“We do need to do it at the last point it is reasonable.” 

It was also made clear that the Government was considering and had modelled most possible interventions. Johnson was explicit: “Whatever is happening in other countries, whatever measures are being urged upon us, be in no doubt we are considering absolutely all of them and, in due time, they may, of course, become necessary.”The most urgent question, therefore, became what might the UK curve look like and where we were along it. “In terms of the things that could be done … we need to understand where we are in the epidemic,” Vallance explained on 9 March. “We’re expecting the numbers to increase, initially slowly, but really quite fast after a while and we have to catch it before the upswing begins,” Whitty added.

“The most dangerous period is not now, but some weeks away,” Johnson said in the 12 March briefing. Cheltenham Festival was at that point on its second day. The Government had still not implemented any of its suite of measures announced on 3rd March, other than hand-washing. 

“You can think of it as roughly two to three months from an outbreak of sustained person-to-person transmission up to the peak and two to three months for the peak to decline again,” Vallance explained on 3 March. Asked about his working assumption nine days later, he gave specifics: “We think that the peak may be something like ten to 14 weeks away. Could be a bit longer.”This seems a catastrophic miscalculation. Britain was, in fact, three to six weeks away from the peak. It is a matter of record that hospital admissions peaked in the first week of April and daily deaths in the third. “

It is impossible to conclude that Hancock is right when he claims the lock down took place at the right time. We know there were no preparations to test, test, test. and that modelling had not included this effect.

In the circumstances it is difficult to see what alternative options were open to Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland other than to follow England’s path. Independence might have made a difference.