Neil Ferguson, a professor at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London and an expert on infectious diseases, made the statement during an interview with BBC Today. Ferguson, in his interview, noted that while the world “tried very hard to stop this virus,” it still failed, citing the rampant spread of the fatal infection as proof.
“You can see from the statistics, the number of countries affected, that that battle is really over,” Ferguson said, noting that the country’s coronavirus cases jumped from 51 to 87 in a relatively short span of time.
Currently, more than 80 countries around the world have confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In his interview, Ferguson also added that the U.K. is now in the ‘early stage’ of an epidemic, and that “time is running out” to contain the crisis by reducing the spread with drastic measures.
“We’re now moving towards trying to slow the spread to allow the health systems to cope and try to mitigate the impact of the epidemic,” Ferguson, who previously claimed on a Channel 4 interview that the coronavirus might claim 400,000 casualties in the U.K., said.
While there had already been early signs of COVID-19 community transmission in the U.K., the country remains several weeks behind Italy, which is the hardest-hit country in Europe. Currently, the country has 2,500 confirmed cases and has suffered 79 deaths as of this writing. (Related: It may already be too late for travel restrictions in America, as the coronavirus has already spread to so many cities, it’s unable to be contained)
Ferguson stressed that the U.K. does not have “a lot of time” left to deal with the encroaching coronavirus.
“We are at an early stage in this country. I’m not saying we have a lot of time, we have days, weeks really, to make these decisions and start introducing these measures,” Ferguson said, in reference perhaps to Italy’s newly-approved measures warning residents about public physical contact.
“We’re looking at the sort of community intervention, that is reducing contact between people in society which could slow [its] spread,” Ferguson said.
According to Ferguson, one key measure that Britain needs to adopt is protecting the vulnerable members of the population from getting infected since they are most likely to die from the virus.
“Another important thing is targeting intervention in the most vulnerable, so try to protect principally the old and frail from getting infected,” Ferguson stressed.
Ferguson’s chilling warning came immediately after the significant spike in coronavirus cases on British soil was announced.
The Department of Health and Social Care announced Wednesday that 16,659 people had been tested in the U.K., with 85 confirmed as having contracted the virus. However, two further cases were later confirmed in Northern Ireland, thereby bringing the country’s total number of confirmed cases to 87.
According to authorities, while the vast majority of the cases so far are people who have returned from countries suffering outbreaks, they are now suspecting that the infection is being passed within the country, citing cases in Surrey and in Essex which were initially not thought to be linked to foreign outbreaks.
“We probably do in my view have some onward transmission here in the UK, I don’t think it is a large amount or we would have detected it,” Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said in an interview with the BBC, noting that with how things are going with the rest of the world, an epidemic is likely to erupt within Britain’s borders.
“It is much more likely than not that we are going to deal with a significant epidemic. How big it is I think is currently still pretty uncertain but that there will be an epidemic is now highly likely.”