The Government’s chief scientific adviser has defended a stark projection that warned the UK could see 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by mid-October.
Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty shared the data at a press conference last week, during which they also said a surge in infections could lead to 200-plus daily deaths.
But the latest figures suggest that new Covid-19 infections in the UK were not increasing fast enough to match the Government’s worst-case scenario.
At a coronavirus press conference on Wednesday, BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg asked the two experts about their previous projection, which prompted a backlash, following the new data.
In response, Sir Patrick said: “There were three messages really that we were trying to get across in terms of the data.
“The first was, if you look at other countries, you see that cases go up, followed by spread to older people, followed by hospitalisations and unfortunately leading to ICU (intensive care unit) and to deaths. That looks like what is happening here.
“The second message was that cases were already increasing at the time that we gave that presentation, and you could already begin to see increases in hospitalisations, which as Chris has shown, have increased further since.”
He said the projection was to “point out” that epidemics either “double or half”, adding that when they double “things go very big, quite quickly”.
Sir Patrick said: “So things move quickly, and when things double you see that exponential growth, which means you end up with very high numbers and it means you have to act quickly in order to deal with that.”
He said there was “clearly” fast growth in Covid-19 cases in some areas of the country, and that “things were definitely heading in the wrong direction”.
His comments came after former minister Sir Desmond Swayne claimed it was a “sacking offence” for the top advisers to deliver such a presentation.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Desmond said: “The purpose of politicians is to impose a measure of proportion, a sense of proportion on science, and not to be enthralled to it.
“Now I will make myself very unpopular, but I believe that the appearance of the chiefs last week should have been a sacking offence.
“When they presented that graph, with the caveat that it wasn’t a prediction, but nevertheless it was clear that they presented it as a plausible scenario, with its 50,000 cases per day by mid-October based on the doubling of infections by the week.
“Not once, not on one day since March have there been infections on that day that were double that of the day of the week proceeding. Not once. Where did this doubling come from? What was their purpose in presenting such a graph?
“It was the purpose of the Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers, ‘I wants to make yer flesh creep’. It was project fear, it was an attempt to terrify the British people, as if they haven’t been terrified enough.”
In order to match the Government’s worst-case-scenario around new infections, the UK would now be seeing about 12,000 new cases reported each day.
Instead, the latest daily total of lab-confirmed cases was 7,108, slightly down on the 7,143 reported on Tuesday.