Medical professor predicts lockdown has averted tens of thousands of deaths across the country

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) was first identified in Wuhan City, China. Picture: NIAID /Flickr

Wokingham Borough’s World Health Organisation professor is predicting the UK’s coronavirus lockdown will have saved at least tens of thousands of lives.

Expert on disease spread, Professor Ben Cowling, who went to Sonning CofE Primary School, is though worried about hospitals in London and Birmingham. He fears their situation will become very serious in the next week or two.

He told us this week: “I think it will become clear fairly soon that the lockdown has averted tens of thousands of deaths in the UK or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of deaths.”

Professor Cowling, director of a Hong Kong WHO centre, correctly predicted in a Wokingham.Today interview in early February the start of a UK epidemic by early March. In early February the UK had just two cases.

On Monday he said: “I think most of the country [UK] will have avoided the situation that is now unfolding in parts of Spain and France.”

Professor Cowling, whose parents still live in Sonning, believes UK health authorities were now considering what policies might be possible after case levels decline to low levels. 

“Perhaps the lockdown could be relaxed later in April with some degree of social distancing maintained, as well as expanded testing to allow identification and isolation of cases in the community,” he said.  

Professor Cowling had been very impressed how the authorities’ strategy to fight the virus changed once scientific data on the potential impact of an epidemic became clearer. 

Wokingham shoppers have been worried about whether to wear masks on their supermarket run. 

Professor Cowling has warned that masks are essential for healthcare staff and the use of masks in the community should only be considered once there are enough for healthcare staff.

But he’s encouraging about mask use, saying in top academic magazine Science: “Despite messages from some health officials to the contrary, it’s likely that a mask can help protect a healthy wearer from infection.”

The article says that surgical masks have prevented respiratory infections in health care workers. Professor Cowling adds: “It doesn’t make sense to imagine that … surgical masks are really important for health care workers but then not useful at all for the general public.”

Masks might work better in hospitals than in public partly because workers there have been trained how to use them and they do thorough hand washing etc.

“I think the average person, if they were taught how to wear a mask properly … would have some protection against infection in the community.”

But he says the greatest benefit of masking the masses is likely to come from covering the mouths of people already infected and who go out, not knowing they are infected. 

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