UK ‘may never know’ true coronavirus death toll, says top government adviser

The UK may never know the true number of deaths caused by coronavirus due to the early lack of widespread testing, an expert advising the government has said.

Sir David Spiegelhalter, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK was “operating in the dark” at the beginning of the pandemic and “will never really know exactly what has gone on”.

Sir David, a professor of understanding risk at Cambridge University, said lack of testing from the outset made it more difficult for experts to predict how the virus would spread.

He also warned that delays to routine surgeries during the pandemic will make it difficult to establish the true coronavirus death toll, according to The Telegraph .

The government has face criticism after the roll out of mass testing was dogged by delays in the early days of the crisis.

Boris Johnson has come under fire over delays to mass testing in the early days of the pandemic

Asked how long it will take to establish the impact of the virus, Sir David said: “Never. We will never really know exactly what has gone on.

“We know we have done badly, we have had this big spike, and you can’t disguise that. I think the best way is to look at excess deaths rather than what was on a death certificate.

“But even then, what causes excess deaths? How many people who died in care homes actually had Covid? We don’t know.

“How many of the people dying at home would have lived longer had they gone to hospital? We don’t know and we won’t know.

“And in the future – as we go through the rest of the summer, winter and next year – how many extra case deaths [will there be] from cancer and from delayed surgery in the NHS due to the lockdown?”

He went on: “It will be hard to deconstruct this in the future and we will never be able to come up with an absolutely firm idea.”

And Sir David warned that the UK had been “operating in the dark for so long without knowing how many people in the country had it.

NHS staff carry out Coronavirus tests at a testing facility (PA Wire)

Government experts have previously admitted that the UK was too slow to scale up provision of testing for the virus amid shortages of lab capacity.


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