Coronavirus: UK spread shows early signs of slowing – key adviser

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor
Photograph: House of Commons/PA

The spread of coronavirus in the UK is showing early signs of slowing, according to Prof Neil Ferguson, a key epidemiologist advising the government.

What do the restrictions involve?

 

People in the UK will only be allowed to leave their home for the following purposes:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
  • Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home

Police will have the powers to enforce the rules, including through fines and dispersing gatherings. To ensure compliance with the instruction to stay at home, the government will:

  • Close all shops selling non-essential goods, including clothing and electronic stores and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms, and places of worship
  • Stop all gatherings of more than two people in public – excluding people you live with
  • Stop all social events, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but excluding funerals

Parks will remain open for exercise, but gatherings will be dispersed.

 

Ferguson, whose modelling informed the government’s decision to impose a lockdown, said the data was showing signs that social distancing measures were beginning to work, although it has not yet had an effect on the number of daily reported deaths.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the UK, we can see some early signs of slowing in some indicators. Less so in deaths because deaths are lagged by long time from when the measures come into force.

“But we look at the numbers of new hospital admissions today, for instance, that does seem to be slowing down a little bit now. It’s not yet plateaued as the numbers are increasing each day but the rate of that increase has slowed.

“We see similar patterns in a number of European countries.”

Ferguson also said that “maybe a third, maybe 40%” of people do not get any symptoms but there was no evidence to back up claims that the vast majority of people are asymptomatic.

He said it appeared that 3-5% of people in central London could have been infected, but the figure may be higher in hotspots, while the figure for the country at large is more likely to be 2-3%.


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Ferguson said the next crucial step was the antibody test that can tell whether people have already had the virus and is in the “final stages of validation”, with hopes that it could be operational within days.

Ferguson’s assessment provides some hope that the lockdown could work, but he acknowledged testing would need to be ramped up.

Helen Whately, a health minister, told the same programme that the government was hugely increasing testing, including of NHS staff.

However, she acknowledged that still only 7,000 people were tested on Sunday, despite the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, claiming the level is now at 10,000 tests a day. Whately said that was the new “capacity” but it had not yet been reached.

The government announced in early March it would be testing 10,000 people a day, before increasing that target to 25,000. However, it has taken weeks to get the tests and laboratories ready for 10,000 tests, meaning many NHS workers are just starting to get tested.

Whately also declined to speculate on when the UK’s lockdown may end, after Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said on Sunday that restrictions could last three to six months.

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