The former regional director of Public Health England issued a furious condemnation of what he described as the UK government’s ‘complacent’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Visibly angry professor John Ashton Told BBC Newsnight the government should have started implementing measures a month ago and has expressed concern that hospitals will be overworked.
His comments come after Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £ 30bn stimulus package that included £ 12bn to tackle problems caused by the coronavirus – but failed to impose measures to ban the big ones public gatherings and social distancing that other countries, including China and South Korea, have used with success.
“I’m really pulling my hair out, with that,” Mr. Ashton said. “I am very frustrated here. I am with Richard Horton, the editor in chief of The Lancet, and with Tedros [Adhanom], the Director General of the World Health Organization – I think that was a boost in particular for this country.
“We have a complacent attitude, it sounds woody and academic, and we wasted a month when we should have engaged with the audience.
“If it spreads now as it seems likely, there won’t be enough hospital beds and people will need to be cared for at home. We should have mastered this a month ago, ”he added.
The editor of the science journal The Lancet, Mr Horton said earlier this week that Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock “were playing roulette with the public” by not implementing earlier “policies of social distancing and closing”.
He tweeted Tuesday: “The UK government’s decision not to go ‘late’ may be understandable, but it is a mistake. As a British expert epidemiologist told me last night, his decision is “very disappointing – the UK should have moved to more aggressive social policy. distancing measures immediately. ‘”
While the COVID-19 epidemic was classified as a pandemic on Wednesday evening, Mr. Adhanom called on governments take more urgent action to contain and manage the spread of the virus.
He said: “The challenge for many countries that are now facing large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it is whether they will. struggling with a lack of capacity Some countries grappling with a lack Some countries grappling with a lack of determination.
“We have called on countries every day to take urgent and aggressive action. We have sounded the alarm loud and clear.”
Mr Ashton drew comparisons between the UK’s response and that of Bahrain, led by the Crown Prince, who he said set up a “war room” over a month ago and is carrying out “extensive testing”.
“I want to know why we are not testing, why we have not tested these people who come back from Italy and who are now with us. We have a recipe for community broadcasting here, ”he said.
The former director criticized Boris Johnson’s leadership on the coronavirus, which has so far infected 456 people in the UK and killed six.
In an interview with talkRADIO Last week Mr Ashton said the Prime Minister was treating the public “like children”.
He said: “What the COBR should have done, with the chief medical officer by its side and the advisers, takes stock daily and looks to the future, looks around the corners, sees what is to come and takes the audience. about this trip. “
An emergency COBR meeting will take place at lunchtime on Thursday, after which the UK is expected to step up response to the ‘delay’ phase of its coronavirus action plan.
The new measures may include school closures, cancellations of public gatherings and encouraging people to work from home, as well as “social distancing” recommendations.
“Social distancing” involves avoiding public transport and working from home in the hope of delaying the spread of the virus to give the health sector time to test drugs and push back the peak of the epidemic to summer.
As the UK prepares to take tougher measures to tackle the coronavirus, other countries have put in place strong travel bans and locked down entire cities.
US President Donald Trump banned all travel from Europe to the United States, excluding UK and Ireland, effective March 20. The United States currently has more than 1,200 confirmed cases of the virus.
Elsewhere, Italy has imposed its most severe controls since World War II, closing all stores in the country except supermarkets, grocery stores and pharmacies. The Italian government has also ordered all businesses to shut down non-essential departments as the number of cases rose to 12,426.
An infectious disease expert said the UK was around two or three weeks behind Italy in terms of the growth of cases and the “delay” phase might not be effective if introduced too late.
Dr Michael Tildesley, Associate Professor at the University of Warwick, Told Euronews: “That’s why these kinds of measures are being put in place at this point. What they’re trying to do is both delay and reduce the height of the peak.
“This potentially reduces the pressure on health services. The challenge with this is that it might need to be maintained for a significant period of time (to be effective). “