Richard Horton is editor-in-chief of The Lancet, one of the world’s most influential medical journals. In his new book, The Covid-19 Catastrophe: What’s gone wrong and how to stop it happening again, Horton condemns most countries’ responses to coronavirus. He spoke to New Scientist about how the crisis has been mishandled around the world.
How do you rate the UK’s coronavirus response?
We were too late with everything. In The Lancet, we published five papers in the last week of January that told the entire story: a new virus, rapidly killing people, human-to-human transmission. We could have mobilised more quickly.
Didn’t you also underestimate the risks? You tweeted on 24 January that the virus had low pathogenicity?
On 24 January, there were newspaper headlines that were in danger of fostering a panic: things like “Killer virus”. Panic isn’t a very good public health response.
How should the UK have reacted?
The World Health Organization (WHO) called a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January, and then [in the UK] in the next six weeks, the government took its eye off the ball.
Is that with the benefit of hindsight?
Nobody can say we didn’t know this was coming. Pandemics are number one on our national risk register. Don’t you think there is an obligation to be prepared for that? We know that the…