'Damage done by lockdown could outweigh that of coronavirus', warns professor

Empty streets in Leicester as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)
Deserted streets are a familiar sight as the UK continues with a lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Joe Giddens/PA)

The effects of a long term lockdown could do more damage than coronavirus itself, an Oxford professor has warned.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the centre for evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “In fact, the damaging effect now of lockdown is going to outweigh the damaging effect of coronavirus.”

Heneghan argued that not enough testing has been done so the government cannot understand how many people have actually had COVID-19, and that lockdown was preventing people seeking help for potentially life-threatening issues.

“The key is no-one has really understood how many people actually have the infection,” he said.

“You could do that really quickly with random sampling of a thousand people in London who thought they had the symptoms.

The prime minister has been admitted to hospital for tests after being diagnosed with COVID-19 (AP)
Professor Carl Heneghan suggests Boris Johnson's government may have imposed lockdown after coronavirus peaked in Britain (AP)

“You could do that in the next couple of days and get a really key handle on that problem and we’d be able to then understand coming out of lockdown much quicker.”

But the academic argued that the government had no plan for what happens next.

“You go into a lockdown - you should have a clear exit strategy,” he said on Monday. “You should understand the advantages and disadvantages of what you’re doing.”

Heneghan suggested the coronavirus peak may actually have taken place the week before Boris Johnson imposed the lockdown.

“We have failed to look at the data and see when the lockdown actually occurred,” he added.

Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford University says the effects of lockdown could do more damage thancoronavirus itself (Carl Heneghan/Oxford University)
Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford University says the effects of lockdown could do more damage thancoronavirus itself (Carl Heneghan/Oxford University)

He later told Mail Online: “The peak of deaths occurred on April 8, and if you understand that then you work backwards to find the peak of infections. That would be 21 days before then, right before the point of lockdown.”

This is based on the delay in the time it takes for an infected person to fall seriously ill and die - three weeks on average.

Heneghan claims that if the Government accepts that deaths peaked on April 8, then it must mean that infections were at their highest around three weeks prior.

He said: “We should be reopening society. We need to get a plan in place rapidly, we can’t wait three weeks then slowly open up.

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“As well as major economic issues, austerity will impact people's physical and mental health.

“The second issue of lockdown is that it's making the public scared to engage with healthcare. People are avoiding going to GPs and hospitals because they believe there is so much infection there that they might catch it [coronavirus]. That’s really damaging.”

Figures show that more than 80 extra deaths are occurring every day in London alone before paramedics reach the victims because patients are reluctant to phone for an ambulance in case they catch the virus in hospital.

Professor Heneghan said the decision to abandon mass-testing and contact tracing had “completely failed” elderly people.

“The shielding has failed - 70 per cent of all the deaths are in the over-75s. Forty per cent of all the nursing homes have the infection.

“So whatever we have done it has completely failed in terms of shielding.”