‘We should have gone into lockdown sooner’: Virus expert claims Britain was four days late

PUBLISHED: 09:17 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 14:18 24 April 2020

Prof George Lomonossoff who believes Britain could have acted sooner to fight coronavirus. Pic: Archant

Prof George Lomonossoff who believes Britain could have acted sooner to fight coronavirus. Pic: Archant

A scientist at Norwich’s John Innes Centre who specialises in viruses says thousands of lives may have been lost because of government inaction.

Prof George Lomonossoff. Pic: ArchantProf George Lomonossoff. Pic: Archant

Professor George Lomonossoff, who has been working on coronaviruses in pigs, said such was the exponential spread, that lockdown just four days earlier would have made a massive difference in the numbers who have died.

He said the British government – inexperienced at handling outbreaks compared to some countries which battled SARS in 2002-4 – had been complacent and did not act quick enough.

But he praised the efforts of getting a vaccine tested so early and predicted that at the earliest it could be ready for the public by the end of the year.

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“I think Britain was a bit slow, we hadd seen what had happened in other countries, it wasn’t as if we were hit first, you could see the writing on the wall,” he said. “If we had put restrictions in place earlier, there would have been fewer cases, just four days earlier and it could have saved thousands of lives.

“The problem with an exponential spread of a virus is that it suddenly takes off, it can seem slow at the start but then it starts doubling and it takes the same time to spread from two to four people as it does from 2,000-4,0000, it’s shocking.

“Just a few days would have made such a difference.”

Prof Lomonossoff is an expert at testing vaccines, although much of his career has been working with plants and animals not humans. But he said the ability to use synthetic biology, creating a chemical formula that mimics the behaviour of the virus rather than using the virus itself, would speed up the process immeasurably.

However he added developing a safe vaccine for a population was an incredibly long procedure, with at least three main phases of testing it on people who were selected for their good health, more often men, and who had not been exposed to coronavirus before.

If they had already got antibodies using the virus could create an “unwanted immunity” that could make them ill and also skew the results.

After monitoring the people in the test for any immediate reaction such as rashes, the process would move to a second phase whereby antibodies against the virus would be monitored and then finally after a few months, the final phase would need the people to be subjected to the actual virus, albeit in a small, controlled dose.

“The dose would be enough to be detectable but it’s tricky as there is still a risk to their lives,” he said.

After that, the vaccine would need to be scaled up in production and a method of distribution and administration found.

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