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Imperial paper on UK lockdown cited a retracted preprint

Image: Ivica Drusany / Shutterstock.com

The retracted paper was cited in a report thought to be instrumental in lockdown

A preprint cited in an influential report by scientists at Imperial College London had previously been withdrawn, it has emerged.

In the Imperial report from March—which is thought to have been instrumental in the decision to impose a UK-wide lockdown—epidemiologist Neil Ferguson and his team cited a preprint from researchers in China posted on 10 February.

However, the authors withdrew the paper on 21 February. 

Azra Ghani, one of the authors of the Imperial paper told Retraction Watch she and her colleagues would ask the journal for a correction on their paper, but added that they are “confident that the results would still hold”.

The authors of the preprint said the original manuscript was based on Covid-19 cases in China identified before 26 January, but by 20 February the total number of confirmed cases reached 18 times that number.

They said: “While the methods and the main conclusions in our original analyses remain solid, we decided to withdraw this preprint for the time being, and will replace it with a more up-to-date version shortly.”

Ferguson’s report—titled Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce Covid-19 mortality and healthcare demand—predicted that uncontrolled spread of the disease could cause 510,000 deaths in the UK and 2.2 million in the US, concluding that suppression of the virus was “the only viable strategy at the current time”.

The Imperial team told Retraction Watch they “did use the data on cases by age in our analysis from this preprint” but that they “did not check back at the time that we submitted our paper” and were “not aware that it had been withdrawn”.

Research Professional News contacted the Imperial team for comment.