Speaking to the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee on Thursday afternoon, Sir Patrick conceded some decisions made by the Government will “turn out not to have been the right decisions at the time.”
He had previously said 20,000 deaths from the disease would be a “good outcome” for the UK, but the latest statistics suggest the country’s virus-linked death toll has passed 55,000.
However, he said that a number of complex factors would come into play when determining how well countries have responded to the outbreak.
He told MP’s: “As (chief medical officer Professor) Chris Whitty has said before, it’s very difficult to know where we stand at the moment.
“It’s clear that the outcome has not been good in the UK, I think you can be absolutely clear about that.
“It is clear you can see a band of countries that have done less well in the temperate zone. Countries that are very well connected internationally, countries that have got population structures of a certain type.
“There are many factors that are going to play in this as we look and say, ‘what is it that makes some countries having done worse than others?’, and there will be decisions made that will turn out not to have been the right decisions at the time.”
He went on to warn that the virus was likely to be around for a number of years.
Asked about the potential of a second wave, he said what most people mean by this is essentially a re-emergence of the first wave which has been suppressed.
But he told MPs that if there is an increase in cases in the winter: “You could argue that is the tail end of the first wave still.
“And I think it is quite probable that we will see this virus coming back in different waves over a number of years.”
Sir Patrick also dampened growing hopes for the imminent establishment of a coronavirus vaccine.
He told the committee there was no assumption one would be found in the immediate future, adding: “Our assumption is we won’t have it (a vaccine) and when we get it we will be thrilled.”
Probed on “lessons learnt” from the crisis, Sir Patrick said it would have been “absolutely preferable” to have much greater testing capacity earlier in the pandemic.
He told the committee that the pandemic had shed light on the core importance of data sharing, and authorities would need to have systems already in place to deal with future emergencies.
He said: “It would have been absolutely preferable to have much greater testing capacity early on.
“But it’s not just testing, it’s basic information flows around patients in hospitals, around rates of admission, around rates of movement. Those sorts of things are important parts of this as well.”
The chief scientific adviser also stressed the “crucial” importance of understanding the indirect impact of lockdown on people’s mental and physical health.
He said: “I think the chief medical officer has been pretty clear about this, and that is the way this should be looked at… overall excess deaths.
“If you look at overall excess deaths then you’re looking at the integrated effect of the virus itself with all the other reasons people may have suffered as a result of this.
“We do need to understand the impact of that and it’s very clear that lockdown itself carries risks, and those risks are to both physical health and mental health.”
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