228,000 more people could have died over COVID winter if government hadn't acted, Sage suggests

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·2-min read
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 27, 2021: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on 27 January, 2021 in London, England. With further 1,631 coronavirus deaths recorded yeasterday the official UK Covid-19 death toll stands at 100,162, which is the highest number in Europe.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
A further 228,000 people could have died in the space of three months if Boris Johnson hadn’t imposed the national lockdown earlier this month, a Sage paper has suggested. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

A further 228,000 people could have died in the space of three months if the government hadn’t imposed the national lockdown, a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) paper has suggested.

The 17 December paper, which was made public on Friday, presented a grim scenario between 31 December and 31 March “where there is little or no government intervention” on coronavirus.

This included:

  • 97,000 excess deaths as a result of contracting COVID-19

  • 76,000 excess deaths due to a lack of NHS critical care capacity

  • 12,000 excess deaths from changes to emergency care

  • 43,000 excess deaths from changes to adult social care

Boris Johnson imposed England’s national lockdown on 4 January, five days into the scenario presented by Sage.

Watch: Coronavirus vaccine: 7.8 million have received first dose

During the lockdown, COVID deaths have continued to accelerate – there were 29,614 recorded between 31 December and 28 January – with an under-pressure Johnson saying he “takes full responsibility” after the death toll passed 100,000 on Tuesday.

But the scenario laid out by Sage demonstrates how much more deadly this three-month period would have been without interventions.

This was something Johnson himself had to explain to lockdown-sceptic Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne on 6 January, when the lockdown legislation went through the House of Commons.

Swayne accused the government of “pettifogging malice” and complained about the closure of golf clubs, with the prime minister saying lockdown was needed to “stop the virus”. Swayne was one of 16 MPs who voted against the lockdown becoming law.

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Furthermore, the winter scenario presented by Sage didn’t take into account the new, more transmissible variant which caused a huge infection spike in the South East in December and subsequently spread across the country.

The paper also warned of the economic impact of the pandemic – saying “approximately 40,000 excess deaths may occur in the longer term (up to 50 years) as a result of economic impacts from the recession”.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown