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Coronavirus modeler says up to two million in U.K. could already have the disease

Current fatality rate, already lowered, would plummet if so

A hugely influential scientist whose contributions to COVID-19 research helped convince the United Kingdom and the United States to lock down their countries and bring their economies to screeching halts now says that upwards of two million citizens of the U.K. may already have the disease—an indication that it may be far more widespread, and far less deadly, than initial estimates.

Neil Ferguson, a researcher at Imperial College London, has become the public face of that institution’s hugely dire coronavirus model that predicted millions of deaths between the U.S. and U.K. if those governments did nothing to halt the spread of the virus. The Imperial report speculated possibly half a million deaths in the United Kingdom and as many as 2.2 million deaths in America under a worst-case, do-nothing scenario.

Last week Ferguson announced that, due to the far-reaching lockdown measures the British government had enacted in response to that model, he now estimates that as little as 20,000 British citizens, and possibly much fewer, could die from the disease. Now, this week, Ferguson announced another stunning presumption on the part of Imperial scientists: That up to three percent of U.K. residents, or as many as two million people, could already have the disease.

The Daily Mail reports Ferguson said on Thursday that “up to three per cent of the UK – around two million people – might already have been infected;” he also “said the figure could be as high as five per cent in London.”

If so, that would cause the present fatality rate of the disease in England to plummet drastically. Imperial College already sharply revised its estimate of the disease’s fatality rate this week, dropping it a full third from 1 percent to 0.66 percent. Based on England’s current reports of the disease’s toll in that country, two million extra people with the disease would put the current death rate at around 0.17 percent, or roughly comparable to the seasonal influenza.

Ferguson’s new estimates seem to be at least a partial walkback of his dismissal last week of the proposition, advanced by scientists at Oxford University, that wide swaths of the British population already have had the disease with little outward symptoms. “I don’t think that’s consistent with the observed data,” he said at the time.

Read the report here.

MORE: British prof who predicted 500k dead from COVID-19 now estimating much lower number

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