We dropped the ball on care homes, says senior scientist advising the Government on coronavirus

Sophia Sleigh
More than 7,500 may have died after contracting coronavirus in care homes: Reuters

A senior scientist advising the Government on its coronavirus response today admitted the modellers may have “dropped the ball” with care homes.

Professor Matt Keeling, Professor of Mathematics and Life Sciences at the University of Warwick, said they were modelling on a “constantly evolving” situation.

He added: “If the lockdown would have been very strict, if we had thought more about what was happening in care homes and hospitals…early on maybe that’s one of the areas where modellers did drop the ball.

“With hindsight it’s very easy to say 'oh well we know care homes and hospitals are these huge collections of very vulnerable individuals'.

“So maybe with hindsight we could have modelled those early on and thought about the impact there.

“But I think considering the amount of information we had at the time, I think the models offer our best estimates of what could happen in the short term.”

Matt Keeling spoke about the response to coronavirus in care homes

He made the comments in response to a question by Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former director of general of MI5, who asked what had gone wrong.

She pointed out that at the start of the crisis Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the UK would be doing well to have just 20,000 deaths.

The UK death toll is now nearly 50,000.

Prof Keeling made the comments during a House of Lords Science and Tech committee hearing on the scientific modelling that informed the UK’s Covid-19

Professor Neil Ferguson (Parliament Live TV)

He is on two SAGE sub committees including one that gives expert advice to the Government on matters relating to the UK’s response to an influenza pandemic.

During the meeting Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, said the UK had been “much more heavily affected” than they had previously anticipated.

He said this was due to transmission from Spain and Italy in late February and early March and added: "One thing the genetic data is showing us now is most chains of transmission still existing in the UK originated in Spain, to some extent Italy.

"So we had been worrying about importation of infection from China, we're a very well-connected country in the world, other Asian countries, the US.

"But it's clear that before we were even in a position to measure it, before surveillance systems were set up, there were many hundreds, if not thousands, of infected individuals who came into the country in late February and early March from that area.

"And that meant the epidemic was further ahead than we anticipated which explains some of the acceleration of policy then, but it also explains why, to some extent, why mortality figures ended up being higher than we had hoped."

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