Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London is an epidemiologist. If his name and college sound familiar, it’s probably because their well publicized forecast regarding the Wuhan coronavirus inspired lockdown measures in the U.S. and Great Britain.
Ferguson warned that an uncontrolled spread of the virus could cause as many as 510,000 deaths in Britain and up to 2.2 deaths in the U.S. According to the New York Times, “it wasn’t so much the numbers themselves [that caused policymakers to act]. . .as who reported them: Imperial College London.”
Now, Ferguson and the Imperial College London have new numbers for Great Britain. According to this report, Ferguson says the number of deaths in Britain is unlikely to exceed 20,000 and could be much lower. And according to this report, more than half of those who die from the virus would likely have died by the end of the year in any case because they were so old and sick.
The average number of deaths from the flu in Britain each year is 17,000.
Ferguson predicts that the epidemic in the U.K. will peak and subside within “two to three weeks.” Last week he talked about 18 months of quarantine, while acknowledging the obvious — that a quarantine of that length wouldn’t be sustainable. I assume Ferguson no longer thinks anything like an 18 month quarantine will be needed in Britain.
Ferguson’s revision doesn’t mean the U.S. and Britain shouldn’t have taken the measures they did to combat the virus. These measures, I assume, have improved the outlook in terms of fatalities both here and in Britain.
However, Britain instituted its lockdown just two days ago. Thus, while voluntary social distancing presumably played a significant role in enabling Ferguson to become so much more optimistic, I don’t think he can plausibly credit the lockdown.