The peak of the UK coronavirus outbreak will come sooner than expected within the next few weeks, the health secretary has said.
Matt Hancock, who has returned to work after recovering from Covid-19, said the high point of pandemic will come within weeks if people continue to observe the lockdown, saying the spread was “very sensitive” to how many people following strict social distancing guidelines.
Mr Hancock admitted that antibody tests – which detect if someone has already had the virus – were unlikely to be available this month, as none of those trialled have worked.
These tests will not be included in his pledge to deliver 100,000 coronavirus checks in England by the end of April, which came amid mounting public criticism over the delays.
Asked when the peak of coronavirus cases was going to come, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The modelling suggests that the peak will be slightly sooner than previous – in the next few weeks.
“But it is very, very sensitive to how many people follow the social distancing guidelines.
“So the real clarity I can give you is that the more people follow the social distancing rules, the sooner that peak will be.”
Mr Hancock said his target of 100,000 tests by the end of the month were likely to be swab tests, as he was “not assuming any [antibody tests] come on stream” in time.
Testing is regarded as critical to ending the three-week lockdown, which is expected to be extended when it comes up for review next week.
Mr Hancock said it was possible to lift the lockdown without the availability of antibody tests but added: “The more information we have from testing, the more accurately we will be able to do that.”
Tests of lower quality give “false assurance” to people, he said, and insisted he was resisting pressure to approve checks which have not passed the safety assessments.
It comes after Mr Hancock emerged from self isolation to announce a five-point plan to ramp up testing as the UK lags behind countries such as Italy and Germany.
Mr Hancock described being struck down with coronavirus as “pretty unpleasant”, describing losing half a stone in weight feeling as if there were “razors” in his throat.
He said: “Well it was pretty worrying, especially on the way down because you know how serious this infection can be.
“After two days or so which were pretty unpleasant, and very, very like having a glass in your throat and a cough.
“Thankfully I’ve turned a corner and I’ve recovered and it’s great to be back and having got through it.”
Asked if he regarded himself as immune, he said: “Well that’s an important scientific question and I took advice on that. The advice is it’s highly likely that I’m now immune or have a very high level of immunity but it’s not certain.
“Like everybody else who has been through it, I’m social distancing.
“We have a stream of work under way on immunity, with potentially having immunity certificates so that if people have been through it and when the science is clear about the point at which they are then immune, people can then start getting back to normal even more because they have been through it.
“One of the big challenges in this is to know how long immunity lasts for.”