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The UK was “relatively blind” to how many people were infected with coronavirus as late as March, professor Neil Ferguson has said.
Boris Johnson yesterday admitted the government responded “sluggishly” to the pandemic.
Ferguson, whose advice largely informed the prime minister’s decision to introduce a lockdown, also warned on Wednesday the outbreak was “far from over”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, the Imperial College scientist who used to sit on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said there was an “illusion out there that we are past the worst”.
“We were, in retrospect, one of the most heavily seeded countries with infection in Europe,” he said.
Asked why the infection rate was so high in the UK, Ferguson said: “Without a doubt we didn’t ramp up testing fast enough and therefore we were relatively blind in late February and early March about truly how much infection was happening in the community in this country, brought in from Spain and Italy and other countries.
“It was only once we started hospital surveillance that we really got a good handle on that, and from that point onwards we acted very quickly; however, it was just a little too late.”
Ferguson resigned from Sage after he was revealed to have broken the lockdown rules by inviting a woman to his home.
Speaking in Dudley on Tuesday, Johnson said on Whitehall’s response to coronavirus: “There must be time to learn the lessons, and we will.”
He added: “We must use this moment to plan our response, and fix the problems that were most brutally illuminated in that Covid lightning flash.
“The problems in our social care system, the parts of government that seemed to respond so sluggishly that sometimes it seemed like that recurring bad dream when you are telling your feet to run and your feet won’t move.”
Johnson will on Wednesday face Keir Starmer at PMQs, after the government moved to impose a local lockdown on Leicester at the same time as lifting restrictions across the rest of the country.
The Labour leader has said people in Leicester were “crying out” for answers and suggested the government should have moved quicker.
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association (BMA) said the government needs be “more open and transparent with local Covid-19 data” and over how spikes will be dealt with in future.