The UK has just two weeks to stop a coronavirus outbreak as bad as Italy

Business Insider US
  • The UK is just two weeks away from a coronavirus outbreak as bad as Italy.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns that the crisis is "accelerating" and could soon overwhelm the country's healthcare system.
  • Analysis of international COVD-19 data shows the UK could be just days away from an Italian-level crisis.
  • The UK has closed all of its schools, pubs, restaurants, cafes, gyms and cinemas as the number of cases continues to surge.
  • The UK has so far recorded a total of 5,018 confirmed coronavirus cases and 233 deaths.
  • For more stories go to

The United Kingdom has as little as two weeks to prevent its Coronavirus outbreak reaching the depths of the crisis currently seen in Italy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned.

"The numbers are very stark, and they are accelerating. We are only a matter of weeks - two or three - behind Italy," Johnson said on Saturday.

Italy on Saturday recorded almost 800 deaths from the coronavirus in just one day and has overtaken China as the worst affected nation in the world.

Harrowing videos from the country's hospitals show the scale of the crisis that could soon be approaching Britain.

"The Italian death toll is already in the thousands and climbing," Johnson said.

"Unless we act together, unless we make the heroic and collective national effort to slow the spread - then it is all too likely that our own NHS will be similarly overwhelmed."

Johnson's comments are backed up by the numbers.

The UK has so far recorded a total of 5,018 confirmed coronavirus cases and 233 deaths. The real total number of unconfirmed cases in the UK is much larger and experts predict that the coronavirus outbreak in UK is now only narrowly behind that seen in other parts of Europe.

"The trajectory in the UK is so far roughly comparable to the one in northern Italy, but with the epidemic [there] two to three weeks ahead of the situation [here]," Professor Francois Balloux, of the University College London Genetics Institute, said last week.

The UK's healthcare system is already straining under the surge of cases, with some London hospitals in particular, already becoming overwhelmed.

Why the UK is just two weeks behind Italy

A new data-visualisation tool from a project called Databrew uses data from Johns Hopkins to compare various outbreaks around the world on the same time scale. The above graph compares the outbreak in Italy with that of the UK starting from the day each country reported its 150th case.

As you can see, the UK is currently on the same trajectory as Italy and could be just two weeks away from the scale of the pandemic seen in that country.

On Friday Johnson moved to close all of the UK's bars, restaurants, cafes, gyms and cinemas in an effort to try to slow the spread of the virus. Schools across the UK were also shut down this week.

Such measures will take time to be reflected in the numbers and may not be enough to stem the tide of the virus.

However, international evidence shows that a combination of strict social distancing and testing can make a difference.

How the UK could flatten the coronavirus curve

What has happened in Italy was not inevitable. As other countries have shown it is possible to prevent an overwhelming crisis.

In South Korea the government took early, rapid and drastic measures to slow the virus and it worked. As the above chart shows, with early and widespread testing and isolation, South Korea successfully flattened the curve.

As Buzzfeed News has outlined, Johnson's government initially refused to take similarly drastic action which some of his own advisers were urging him to take, with Johnson reluctant to impose what he saw as illiberal measures on the country.

The prime minister changed course in recent days only when the numbers showed unequivocally that Britain is heading for an Italian-style crisis.

It remains to be seen whether the action Johnson has taken is too little and too late, or whether it will successfully flatten the UK's curve as well.

But what is clear is that time is running out to prevent the UK from suffering a similar, if not even worse, fate than the people of Italy.

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