Half of the UK population could have coronavirus: Oxford study

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Half of the population of the United Kingdom could already be infected with the novel coronavirus, a recent study has posited, as experts now say the death toll in the country could be much lower than earlier predicted.

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Governments around the world are taking different approaches to managing the coronavirus pandemic, with more than a quarter of the world under some form of lockdown while other countries are testing for the disease but leaving movement unrestricted.

A study by two scientists at the UK’s University of Oxford puts forward several hypothetical scenarios about the spread of coronavirus in the UK. In the most extreme scenario, they estimate that if the virus had started being transmitted 38 days before the first confirmed death, then 68 per cent of the UK population would have been infected by March 19.

This scenario, posited by Sunetra Gupta and José Lourenço at the university’s Department of Zoology, has yet to be tested against any real-world data.

The study comes as Neil Ferguson, a scientific adviser to the UK government, downgraded his estimate for the number of lives expected to be claimed by COVID-19. Earlier this month he had said that the death toll from the virus could reach 500,000 and the country’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed.

However, after the implementation of precautionary measures to restrict people’s movements and an increase in intensive care unit capacity, he told the parliament’s committee on science and technology that the death toll would more likely be below 20,000.

The UK has so far reported 9,529 cases of coronavirus, and 465 deaths.

The epidemic should peak in the country in two or three weeks, Ferguson said, adding that when it does, hospitals will be equipped to handle the surge in cases.

The Oxford study suggested that a majority of people in the UK could already have coronavirus but are not displaying any symptoms.

Fewer than one in one thousand people infected with the virus might need medical treatment, the study suggests.

The study posits that the UK might already have achieved herd immunity, which means that a large portion of the population is immune to it.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the closure of all non-essential shops, urged people to stay at home, and prohibited public gatherings of more than two people in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading further.

The prime minister imposed stricter measures after stating that herd immunity would be the best model to use to contain the outbreak.

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