Coronavirus: Many parts of UK ‘just past the peak’ of outbreak, says leading expert

’I think the number of new infections stabilised maybe a week or two ago,’ Sir Jeremy Farrar says

Zoe Tidman,Vincent Wood,Kate Devlin
Sunday 19 April 2020 22:37
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Leading expert says 'many parts of country are probably just past the peak' of coronavirus

Britain’s deputy chief medical officer has said the coronavirus outbreak is starting to plateau, after a government adviser claimed the country may have passed the peak of the disease.

Jenny Harries said the latest figures showed the spread of the virus was “heading in the right direction”, with the curve of new infections flattening across the last week.

However, she fell short of agreeing with Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the medical research charity Wellcome Trust, who said many parts of the UK are “probably just past the peak” of the virus.

Speaking at the government’s daily press conference, Dr Harries said: “There is some very good news. Today the UK deaths were down to 596, from 888 yesterday.”

She added: “It is fair to say that we do know from the hospital data ... that we are now starting to plateau”.

But she warned the government should be “extremely guarded” and it was “not fair” to say the peak was over.

She added that if the public did not continue social distancing “we will create a second peak and then we definitely won’t be past it”.

Her comments came amid questions on when Britain’s lockdown might be relaxed and after Sir Jeremy, who is advising the government as part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the number of coronavirus-related deaths was “either stabilising or starting to come down”.

Asked whether the UK was past its peak, he told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “Yes – of this first wave.” However, he said the current outbreak should not be viewed as a “discrete episode”.

“I think the probability and what we must be planning for is that there would be further waves of this in the future, but for this first wave I think the number of new infections stabilised maybe a week or two ago, and the number of hospitalisations maybe a week or so ago.

“Tragically, there are still far too many people dying but the number of people dying in this country – and actually in many countries in the world – is now either stabilising or starting to come down.”

On Sunday, the UK government said 596 more people had died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus. The health ministry announced 888 new deaths on Saturday, and 847 on Friday.

“We are probably just past the peak in many parts of this country, as is true in many parts of the world,” Sir Jeremy said. “We will come off that peak and the numbers will reduce.”

He praised the public for following advice on social distancing and rules of the nationwide lockdown, which he said has played a big role in helping the country tackle the outbreak.

He said: “If we were to release those lockdowns too soon while the infection rates are still high and there are still people in the community who have got infected, then the epidemic would come back again.”

He added: “It would rebound within a few weeks or a couple of months.”

The UK extended its lockdown this week to last until at least the start of May. Public gatherings of more than two have been banned, non-essential businesses told to close and people ordered to stay at home unless it is essential – for example, to get food or go to work – in a bid to limit the spread of Covid-19.

More than 120,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus, a flu-like disease than can develop into pneumonia, in the UK, the health ministry said on Sunday. Some 16,000 hospitalised Covid-19 patients have died.

Also on Sunday Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said the government had set no date on when schools in England might re-open. He said: “People are anxious to know when we’re going to relax restrictions, when schools are likely to be fully back and open again.

“Of course, I want nothing more than to see schools back, get them back to normal, make sure the children are sat around, learning, and experiencing the joy of being at school. But I can’t give you a date. Because before we do, we need to meet five tests.”

Mr Williamson said these tests include protecting the NHS’s ability to cope, seeing the daily death rates come down, and having reliable data that shows the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels.

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