London's lockdown failed as 17% of people caught virus anyway, study

Did London’s lockdown work? English capital has the same level of coronavirus antibodies as Stockholm which stayed open throughout the outbreak, scientists say

  • Official data shows around one in six people in both cities have caught the virus  
  • Two British experts who compiled research said UK’s measures came too late
  • UK shut down economy on March 24 while Sweden stayed open throughout 

Covid-19 has infected the same number of people in London and Stockholm, despite the Swedish capital controversially choosing not to lock down, scientists say.

Antibody testing – which reveal if someone has previously been infected – show around one in six people in both cities caught the virus during the crisis.

Public Health England surveillance studies estimate that 17.5 per cent of Londoners had caught the virus by late June, based on testing 1,000 people a week.

And a similar Government programme in Sweden showed that 17 per cent of citydwellers in its capital had been infected by the same time period.

The UK and Sweden tackled the coronavirus epidemic very differently, with Boris Johnson ordering everyone to stay at home and shutting all but essential shops on March 24 for more than three months.

Sweden, on the other hand, only introduced a handful of restrictions, including banning mass gatherings and encouraging people to work and study from home. 

Two British experts who compiled the research said the finding throws into question whether the the economically-crippling lockdown actually worked in London.  

Writing in the study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the researchers say the restrictions in the English capital came too late. 

Sweden has a death rate of 564 people per million population, which is still better than the UK’s 707 per million. Although both epidemics have followed a similar trajectory

Two British experts who compiled the research drew on official antibody testing data from around the world. London and Stockholm had the most amount of positive results, other than New York City

Public Health England surveillance studies estimate that 17.5 per cent of people in London had caught the virus by late June, based on testing 1,000 people a week

The authors, retired consultant neurologist David Goldsmith and Eric Orlowski, a behavioural scientists from University College London, said: ‘Lest this strategy seem like just the traditional risky Swedish exceptionalism, we in the UK would do well to remember we nearly trod the same path.

‘Right now, despite “strict (but tardy) lockdown” in the UK, and the more measured Swedish response, both countries have high seven-day averaged SARS-CoV-2 death rates when compared to other Scandinavian and European countries.

The number of people on company payrolls in the UK has fallen by 730,000 since lockdown –  as employment saw the biggest drop in a decade.

Dire figures have started to show the huge impact of coronavirus on the labour market, with a wave of jobs being axed.

In the three months to June, the number in work decreased by 220,000 – the largest quarterly slump since 2009. Total hours worked slumped by a fifth over the quarter to the lowest level since 1994.

Meanwhile, the numbers on payroll tumbled another 114,000 in July, as the claimant count – which includes some people who are in work – increased again to reach 2.7million. 

Underlining the misery, store chain Debenhams has announced that it is cutting 2,500 roles. 

However, analysts warned the grim news is the tip of the iceberg, as the full effects of lockdown have so far been masked by the government’s massive support schemes. 

The latest figures today showed that 9.6million jobs have been furloughed, with the Treasury paying out £33.8billion in subisidies. 

Many people appear to have chosen to stay economically ‘inactive’ rather than hunt for work – meaning they remain outside the headline unemployment figures.

Figures released tomorrow are due to confirm that the UK has formally entered a recession – with a second consecutive quarter of GDP contracting. The Bank of England expects the fall to be as much as 21 per cent.

Boris Johnson said everyone knew the country was in for a ‘bumpy’ ride, but insisted the government was ready to make ‘colossal’ investments in the future.  

‘Only once we can fully understand both the pandemic and the impact of the measures that were taken – after 1-2 years at least – can we then begin fairly to judge what was done correctly.’

Much attention has been drawn to Sweden, for its controversial decision not to enforce a lockdown. 

At its peak, the country recorded only around 100 daily deaths, and as of July, this number had fallen into single figures, suggesting the virus is under control.

But UK scientists say this approach may not have proved so successful in the UK. 

Firstly, half of Swedish households are single-person, compared to just 15 per cent of the UK.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘If you go to work and catch Covid-19, and you live with a partner, you’ve got someone to infect.

‘In 50 per cent of Swedish households that wasn’t a possibility – and household transmission is the key risk, we now know.

‘Sweden, per head of population, is a much wealthier country than the UK, and deprivation has been a leading driver for serious Covid illness here.’ 

Still, Sweden has not escaped unscathed. It has so far recorded more than 5,700 Covid-19 deaths – giving it one of the highest rates in Europe, taking into account the size of the population.

The Scandinavian nation has a death rate of 564 people per million population, which is still better than the UK’s 707 per million.

Its neighbours Norway and Finland, which did introduce lockdowns, have had more than 250 and 300 deaths respectively.

Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, says it’s also a ‘myth’ that Sweden did not lockdown at all. 

Mass gatherings were banned, people were encouraged to work from home and older secondary students and university students were taught remotely.

Much of the school system did remain open – but mounting evidence suggests school closures had at best a minimal impact on reducing infection rates, including in Britain, as children are less likely to catch or spread the virus.

Separate modelling has suggested that the UK’s epidemic was already peaknig before Boris Johnson introduced unprecedented curbs on March 24.

It has led some scientists to believe that banning large gatherings and telling people to keep two metres apart would have been sufficient to keep the virus under control.

Professor Simon Wood, a mathematician at Bristol University, said  a growing body of data that indicates the average Covid-19 victim dies 23 days after being infected. 

The darkest days in the UK’s outbreak were on April 8 and 9, when more than 2,000 people passed away from the virus, official figures show. 

Professor Simon Wood believes most of these patients were infected between March 18 and 19 – 23 days earlier – and five days before the country locked down.

He claims that social distnacing measures alone would have squashed the UK’s epidemic. 

On March 16, the UK Government launched a public information campaign urging people to wash their hands and keep two metres (6’6′) away from others.

Many Britons were already working from home, shops, restaurants and gyms were closing and large public gatherings had been banned.   

He said it was difficult to be certain when infections peaked in Britain because widespread testing was abandoned in mid-March.  

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