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Expert says lockdown means NHS should cope

Message of hope: Prof Neil Ferguson, who is recovering from Covid-19, talks to MPs via videolink PICTURE: PA

THE lockdown should help the NHS cope with the coronavirus pandemic, a government adviser told MPs.

Prof Neil Ferguson, who is himself recovering from Covid-19, said the measures could tip the outbreak from a growing to a declining epidemic.

If the policies work as expected, intensive care demand will ‘peak in two to three weeks then decline thereafter’, he added.

Prof Ferguson, the director of MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, added: ‘There will be some areas that are extremely stressed but we are reasonably confident that at the national level we will be within capacity.’

Drinking from a Keep Calm and Carry On mug as he spoke via videolink to the science and technology select committee, he said: ‘By employing focused policies to suppress local outbreaks, we can maintain infection levels at low levels in the country as a whole indefinitely.

‘It remains to be seen how we achieve this and how practical it proves to be.’

He also said it was ‘plausible’ Covid-19 could behave like other coronaviruses and transmission could reduce in the summer months, but not by more than 20 per cent. It was clear the UK could not be in lockdown for a year, and ‘the long-term exit from this is clearly the hopes around a vaccine’, he added.

MPs were told a vaccine could be ready in six months, although 12 to 18 months was more likely.

Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity at Oxford university, said: ‘Six months is possible, but it needs a lot of things to fall in place, including for the up-scaling to go well and trials to be conducted in a way that allows us to demonstrate that there is efficacy.’