A top Edinburgh University professor predicted a coronavirus-like crisis two years ago and says that the government missed several opportunities to contain the pandemic.
Devi Sridhar, 35, professor of global public health at the university, made the prediction to an audience at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales in May 2018.
She said that a farmer in China would get infected by an animal, that infection would then spread to the local community before getting on a plane and hitting the UK.
The startling observation will pile further pressure on the government and its response to the pandemic, with Ms Sridhar adding that we ‘should not have been this surprised’ by the spread of the virus.
However, she lavished praise on China’s response to the virus, contrasting it with the UK’s.
A frequent commenter on the virus and its impact on Britain, her remarks at the Hay Festival were shared to Twitter last week, with people praising her insight.
During a discussion of government preparedness for serious health threats, she said: ‘The largest threat to the UK population is someone in China who has been infected from an animal.
‘Then they get on a plane to the UK. What good is it for the UK to be worried [only] about what’s happening here? It’s about those interconnections across the world. If you want to solve those problems, you can’t do it on a go-alone approach.’
After the clip of her analysis spread through Twitter, Ms Sridhar took to social media to discuss how Boris Johnson’s government have been handling the crisis.
She said: ‘I hope I’m not being overly critical but this is not the first virus to emerge from this kind of setting and many things have been done in a way they should not have been done. We should not have been this surprised.’
Lambasting the government response, on Thursday she highlighted how scientists were confused by its advice.
Devi Sridhar, 35, professor of global public health at the university, predicted a coronavirus-type outbreak at the Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales in May 2018
The startling observation will pile further pressure on the government and its response to the pandemic, with Ms Sridhar adding that we ‘should not have been this surprised’ by the spread of the virus
She said: ‘I still don’t fully understand who the government is listening to and what is the goal.’
The professor also highlighted what she sees as several missed opportunities to contain the virus in the UK.
She said the first opportunity was in late January when The Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal, published an account of the treatment of coronavirus patients in Wuhan.
This, she said, was the signal for the UK to get testing ready and in place.
Ms Sridhar said the WHO mission report from February 24 was the next big missed opportunity.
That said that the impending pandemic was ‘extremely dangerous’ and that China had resorted to ‘the most ambitious . . . agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history’.
Ms Sridhar said that this should have pushed the UK to run simulations to estimate how the virus would have affected the country.
The Prime Minister was eventually forced to close all pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres after people continued to flout social distancing regulations but it is not yet known what impact this will have
In a tweet, she said : ‘It makes me feel nauseous how little action was taken early on. Academic navel-gazing and political in-fighting instead of bold decisive action.’
The professor said the UK’s slow action had led to the country being behind in the battle against the virus.
It comes as Britain’s coronavirus death toll jumped to match the number of fatalities recorded in Italy two weeks ago, fanning fears the UK is just a fortnight away from being plunged into a comparable crisis.
Yesterday, the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK jumped to 233, mirroring the figure in Italy on March 7.
And chilling statistics reveal that the UK’s trajectory is even outstripping that of Italy, which recently surpassed China in suffering the world’s biggest death toll.
Scientists are also forecasting that Britain is braced to follow Italy’s rapid spike in cases.
Ministers in Rome have been forced to plunge all 60million citizens into lockdown, while ordering all non-essential businesses to shut.
But despite the clampdown on person-to-person contact, which has been praised by the World Health Organisation for helping to stem the spread of infection, the death toll continues to spiral, yesterday soaring up 739 to 4,825.
Professor Francois Balloux, from University College London, forecast the UK was braced to go the same way as Italy.
He said: ‘The trajectory of the epidemic in the UK is so far roughly comparable to the one in Northern Italy, but with the epidemic in Northern Italy two to three weeks ahead of the situation in the UK’, according to the Telegraph.
‘It is [also] possible that a lockdown strategy similar to the one imposed in Northern Italy may be adopted by the UK and other countries at some point in the future.’
The British government were slower to enforce preventative measures in response to the global pandemic, initially standing firm against a tide of European action which saw schools, pubs and restaurants close.
But as Covid-19 threatened to ‘overwhelm’ the NHS, Boris Johnson has tacked to order an effective shutdown.
The goal, which he repeatedly hammers home at daily Number 10 press conferences, is to ‘flatten the curve’ of the rate of infections so the NHS does not creak under the load of fresh cases.
The Prime Minister has laid bare the gravity of the situation, and revealed the UK should be braced to be pounded with an Italian-like situation.
Mr Johnson said: ‘The numbers are very stark and they are accelerating. We are only a matter of weeks – two or three – behind Italy.
‘The Italians have a superb health care system. And yet their doctors and nurses have been completely overwhelmed by the demand.
‘The Italian death toll is already in the thousands and climbing. Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread – then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed.’
Yet while the government has begun to mirror the shutdown in Italy, it has stopped short of confining people to their homes.
And Britain is still lagging behind in carrying out testing of suspected cases.