Locking-down earlier in England could have saved the lives of more than 20,000 people, a new study has suggested.
Researchers at Imperial College London evaluated how effective the national shutdown protecting lives in England.
The study said: "Among control measures implemented, only national lockdown brought the reproduction number below 1 consistently; introduced one week earlier it could have reduced first wave deaths from 36,700 to 15,700.
"Our results provide crucial insights for controlling the epidemic in the future, emphasising the importance of acting fast.”
Lockdown was introduced on March 23, 18 days after the first reported death in England from Covid-19.
Boris Johnson's government faced criticism for the handling of care homes after 25,000 NHS patients were discharged without having been tested for the virus.
The study showed that reducing contact between care homes and the wider population could have potentially prevented 6% of deaths.
Experts from the Centre of Global Infectious Disease Analysis reproduced the pandemic using mathematical models to analyse the impact of restrictions.
The report described "intense transmission" within care homes during the first national lockdown, The Independent reported.
Researchers also warned England was "still far from herd immunity", proving a blow for those who see that as a potential route out of the pandemic.
Dr Marc Baguelin, author of the report from Imperial College London said: "This work highlights the importance of early intervention in order to reduce the number of cumulative deaths.
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"This model also quantifies for the first time the dynamics of SARS-Cov-2 in the UK between care homes and the wider community and shows how difficult it is to mitigate the impact on the most fragile.
"On a more positive note, it points out that a substantial reduction in the infection fatality ratio has been achieved from one wave to the other thanks to better treatment and improved care protocols."
Researchers said that only the first national lockdown has been successful in bringing the reproduction rate below 1 consistently.
At the start of the pandemic chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said that less than 20,000 deaths would be a good outcome.
The latest reported estimate is a death toll of more than 68,000.
Matt Hancock confirms new areas to go under Tier 4 restrictions on Boxing Day
Swathes of England are currently living under Tier Four restrictions, akin to essentially a full lockdown, with "stay at home orders" in place.
Meanwhile, more regions will be shoved to tougher restrictions on Boxing Day following an outbreak of a contagious new strain of the disease.
Ministers are struggling to contain the spread of the mutation, which has ripped its way through the UK having first been found in Kent.
A government spokesperson reportedly responded to the latest study, saying it had been guided by the advice of science to avoid the NHS being overwhelmed.
"As new emerging evidence has come through, we have constantly adapted our approach and have taken swift action to stop its spread," a spokesman said.
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