Friday, 15 May 2020

Will London really be virus free in two weeks? No10 faces growing demands for transparency

Tory MPs have told Downing Street to ditch its 'we-know-best attitude' and to publish more of the secret evidence which is underpinning its coronavirus response after a study suggested London is recording just 24 new cases a day.

Analysis conducted by Cambridge University researchers and Public Health England (PHE) experts suggested the disease could be eradicated in the capital within weeks and 20 per cent of Londoners had already been infected. It also found 12 per cent of people in England may have had the disease and that it kills in 0.63 per cent of cases.   

It calculated that the crucial 'R' reproduction rate - the average number of people an infected patient passes the virus on to - has fallen to just 0.4 in the capital, with the number of new cases halving every 3.5 days.

But the same data also showed the R rate in London and every other region had already fallen before Number 10's unprecedented lockdown on March 23, suggesting COVID-19's ability to spread was already severely hampered by simple social distancing measures introduced the week before which saw public transport use plummet and millions of Brits choose to work from home. 

Leading scientists today admitted the study - based on the 'careful use' of death data from PHE, NHS England and regional health officials - was 'robust' but admitted projections for the future are likely to drastically rise because of the government's decision to slightly ease the lockdown last Sunday. One epidemiologist argued it is 'extremely unlikely' the number of new cases in London is as low as 24.

The new data - provided to a sub-committee of the Government's SAGE panel of experts - has sparked hopes that the easing of strict measures could be accelerated, perhaps on a regional basis, but the fact the data was published by the university researchers and not by the Government has prompted Tory fury.

Number 10 has been repeatedly criticised over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak over an apparent reluctance to release the scientific evidence its experts have provided. Conservative MPs have questioned what other vital information is being kept secret as they demanded a change in tack. 

Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister, told The Telegraph: 'This means the Government really must publish fully and frankly the underlying advice and data, so we can have a full public consultation. All this black box policy-making isn't working for the country.' He said it would be 'far better to get all the data, modelling and advice out in the public domain at the first opportunity' - a position echoed by a number of his colleagues.

One Tory MP told MailOnline: 'There is a feeling that there is a sort of we-know-best attitude and we are not going to give anyone else the information so they can scrutinise or criticise the Government. The more information we have got the better. There is a feeling on the backbenches that the Government doesn't want anyone else butting in.’

Another Conservative MP added: 'The policy should always be you put as much information in the public domain as you can. You should trust people with information.'

The Cambridge team estimated that 1.8million people in London (20 per cent) have already had coronavirus. They claimed between 10 and 53 people in the capital caught the virus on May 10, the day Boris Johnson announced a slight relaxation of some lockdown rules. The forecast also predicted it would have dropped to below 10 by today but that did not take into account the relaxation. At the peak of the capital's crisis - calculated to be the same day lockdown was announced - 213,000 are thought to have caught the infection.

Meanwhile, the team's modelling shows only one death occurs in every 160 cases, suggesting at the current rate, London's daily death toll will drop to a consistent level of zero in three weeks, which is how long it can take for a COVID-19 patient to be diagnosed, their condition to become deadly and their death to be recorded. 

At the start of the outbreak London was the worst affected part of the UK but the latest numbers suggest it is now ahead of every other area in terms of recovery and it could see all new cases eliminated by June. In contrast, the North East of England is recording 4,000 daily infections and has an R rate of 0.8, twice that of the capital.  


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