The UK has just 2 weeks to stop a coronavirus outbreak as bad as Italy’s. Why time’s running out.

  • The UK is just two weeks away from a coronavirus outbreak as bad as Italy’s.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the crisis is “accelerating” and could soon overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.
  • Analysis of international COVID-19 data shows the UK could be days away from an Italian-level crisis.
  • The UK has closed all schools, pubs, restaurants, cafés, gyms and cinemas as the number of cases surges.
  • The country has so far recorded at least 5,683 confirmed coronavirus cases and 281 deaths.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

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

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

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

Harrowing video footage from Italy’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.”

The prime minister’s comments are backed up by the numbers.

The UK has so far recorded a total of 5,683 confirmed coronavirus cases and 281 deaths.The real total number of unconfirmed cases in the UK is much larger, however, 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 2 weeks behind Italy

Italy uk

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 graph above 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 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, cafés, gyms, and cinemas 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.

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

How the UK could flatten the coronavirus curve

South korea

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 chart above 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.