UK scientist who predicted 500K coronavirus deaths revises projections amid social distancing measures

Much of the panic sweeping the nation in the midst of the novel coronavirus outbreak stems from a single study out of the U.K. that painted a dire picture about the death toll that COVID-19 could bring.

But now, the scientist behind that study, epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, seems to be walking back those claims — at least in part. According to the Daily Wire, Ferguson said Wednesday that the U.K. could see as few as 20,000 deaths from the coronavirus if stringent social distancing measures are followed — far less than his initial estimate of half a million — though he clarified Thursday that his “lethality estimates” for a situation wherein such measures aren’t followed “remain unchanged.”

A major reversal?

Ferguson was the man behind the Imperial College of the United Kingdom study that, among other things, estimated that the U.K. would suffer upwards of 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 if no mitigation efforts were made. His team predicted the United States would suffer anywhere from 2–4 million deaths.

The study, which was loudly perpetuated by the media, according to the Daily Wire, prompted countless governments in the Western world to impose social distancing measures, business shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and even complete lockdowns.

In light of all these measures, Ferguson predicted Wednesday that the U.K. will probably only see around 20,000 deaths — or fewer — from the new coronavirus, according to the Daily Wire.

“I should admit, we’ve always been sensitive in the analysis in the modeling to a variety of levels or values to those quantities. What we’ve been seeing, though, in Europe in the last week or two is a rate of growth of the epidemic which was faster than we expected from early data in China,” Ferguson said in testimony before the British Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday.

“And so we are revising our quotes, our central best estimate of the reproduction,” Ferguson added, according to the Daily Wire. “Something more, a little bit above of the order of three or a little bit above rather than about 2.5.”

Controlling the spread

The revised prediction led some to accuse Ferguson of misleading the public about the true severity of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, Ferguson clarified Thursday that his remarks may have been misconstrued.

“If anything, our latest estimates suggest that the virus is slightly more transmissible than we previously thought. Our lethality estimates remain unchanged,” Ferguson wrote in a series of tweets, according to the Daily Wire.

He went on: “My evidence to Parliament referred to the deaths we assess might occur in the U.K. in the presence of the very intensive social distancing and other public health interventions now in place. Without those controls, our assessment remains that the U.K. would see the scale of deaths reported in our study (namely, up to approximately 500 thousand).”

As of Friday, there were more than 97,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., with at least 1,478 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker. In the U.K., there were at least 14,743 confirmed cases and 761 deaths.

Some may look at these numbers and wonder if all of the social distancing and draconian shutdowns were necessary, while others will suggest that it was those tough measures that kept the numbers low. And to be honest, we may never know for sure which of those two arguments is the correct one.

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