Britons should not expect to get back to ‘normal life’ for six months or even longer, the government’s deputy chief medical officer warned today.
Dr Jenny Harries told a Downing Street press conference that people should not be viewing the coronavirus crisis as something that will blow over soon.
She said it will not be clear whether the ‘social distancing’ lockdown is working for another two or three weeks – after Easter – with deaths set to rise further.
But even if the draconian restrictions do succeed in ‘squashing’ the peak of the outbreak, reverting to a ‘normal way of life’ immediately would probably lead to a disastrous new spike in infections.
Speaking after the official UK coronavirus death toll rose by 209 in 24 hours from 1,019 to 1,228, Dr Harries said people had taken ‘quite some time’ to get used to social distancing, but there was now evidence the country was obeying the rules.
She added: ‘The issue of the three weeks is for us to review where we are and see if we’ve had an impact jointly on the slope of that curve.
‘But I think to make it clear to the public if we are successful we will have squashed the top of that curve, which is brilliant, but we must not then suddenly revert to our normal way of living that would be quite dangerous.
‘If we stop then all of our efforts will be wasted and we could potentially see a second peak. So over time, probably over the next six months, we will have a three-week review.’
Dr Harries said it was ‘plausible’ that the restrictions could need to in force longer than that.
Boris Johnson has previously voiced optimism that the UK can ‘turn the tide’ on the outbreak within ’12 weeks’. But government papers from scientific advisers have made clear they are anticipating a longer timeframe.
On another quick-fire day of developments in the biggest global crisis since the Second World War:
- A 55-year-old hospital consultant has become the first frontline NHS worker to die after testing positive for coronavirus. Amged El-Hawrani was an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist at Queen’s Hospital Burton;
- Boris Johnson is said to be ‘very firmly in charge’ of the government’s response despite being isolated in No11 Downing Street;
- Ministers are facing more criticism over UK testing despite Michael Gove announcing numbers are now running at 10,000 a day;
- Tony Blair has warned that more than 180million tests might need to be carried out in Britain to defeat the disease;
- Mr Gove has blamed Chinese secrecy for slowing down action against the coronavirus threat;
- An emergency effort to repatriate Britons stranded abroad could be launched as early as tomorrow;
- A former business adviser to the PM has complained about firms being ‘shamed’ into closing and suggested drive-through restaurants should still be operating.
Dr Jenny Harries told a Downing Street press conference that people should not be viewing the crisis as something that will blow over within weeks
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick took the briefing in Downing Street today with the P in self-isolation
Pictured: Breakspear crematorium in Ruislip, West London, has had 12 emergency mortuaries built on its site in preparation for the number of increasing deaths from the coronavirus
UK faces austerity amid fears of 2.75million jobless by June and a 10% hit to GDP
Investment firm Nomura expects an unemployment rate of 8 per cent in the next quarter, up from just 3.9 per cent in January
Michael Gove hinted at looming austerity today amid grim warnings of a 10 per cent hit to GDP and the jobless total hitting 2.75million by June.
The Cabinet minister said it was right to put the UK into lockdown to limit the spread of the disease, even though it meant spiralling UK debt, as you cannot ‘put a price on lives’.
But he said the massive hole left in the country’s finances by rescue packages for workers and businesses will need to be paid off ‘in due course’.
The tough message came as forecasters said the impact on UK plc from coronavirus will be many times greater than from the credit crunch.
Investment firm Nomura expects an unemployment rate of 8 per cent in the next quarter, up from just 3.9 per cent in January, according to the Sunday Times.
That will spark a huge increase in the cost of benefits for the government, putting the finances under more pressure.
That suggests an extra 1.4million people out of work, with the total reaching 2.75 million.
It predicts GDP will plummet by 13.5 per cent in the second quarter of the year, more than six times the biggest quarterly fall during the financial crisis.
Other economies face similar misery, after US unemployment claims soared from 282,000 to 3.3million last week.
The only faint glimmer of optimism in the forecasts is that growth could rebound strongly after the outbreak subsides, rather than the long period of stagnation after the credit crunch.
Ministers have set aside a staggering £266billion warchest for the coronavirus battle this year – amid fears UK debt could hit £2trillion within 12 months.
The government has boosted its contingency fund for the next financial year from just £10billion to more than a quarter of a trillion pounds – equivalent to nearly half of central government spending, or more than 10 per cent of GDP.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a series of unprecedented – and open-ended – bailouts for millions of workers facing poverty as a result of coronavirus lockdown.
Self-employed workers will be able to get 80 per cent of their previous income covered by the government, up to a limit of £2,500 a month – although only those with trading profits below £50,000 will be eligible.
The government is also covering 80 per cent of wages for companies to keep workers on. It will pay up to £2,500 a month – equivalent to the UK average wage of £30,000 a year.
The Bank of England has cut rates twice to a record low of 0.1 per cent. Its quantitative easing scheme – effectively printing money to stimulate the economy – has been expanded to £645billion.
Hosting the daily press briefing while Mr Johnson is in isolation suffering COVID-19, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said all parts of the country were now on a ‘war footing’. Military coordinators are working with emergency services and local officials to tailor the response in every region.
‘This is an unprecedented step in peace time, we haven’t done anything like this since the Second World War,’ he said.
‘This means that we are establishing strategic coordination centres across the whole country.’
But Mr Jenrick faced a rough ride on the government’s handling of the situation, amid complaints about the slow increase in testing, and the lack of personal protection kit for medical staff.
He insisted that millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) were being delivered to NHS staff.
‘We simply cannot and should not ask people to be on the frontline without the right protective equipment,’ he said.
Dr Harries stressed that the UK might not be in ‘complete lockdown’ for the full six months. ‘But as a nation we have to be really, really responsible and keep doing what we’re all doing until we’re sure we can gradually start lifting various interventions which are likely to be spaced – based on the science and our data – until we gradually come back to a normal way of living,’ she said.
Dr Harries said she expected the coronavirus death toll to increase ‘for the next week or two’.
She added: ‘But then we anticipate that if we keep doing what we’re doing… we do anticipate that those numbers will start to drop.’
Asked about death figures she said it ‘lags behind our impressions on the rate of increase of infections’.
‘So, we just need to watch it carefully, hold tight for a week or two, keep doing what we’re doing and then come back and ask me the question again and I think hopefully we will be on the way down a little bit.’
In an interview overnight, Professor Neil Ferguson, the government’s leading epidemiology adviser, suggested Britons would have to remain in their homes for three months.
Pushed at the briefing today whether she was saying must be on lockdown for the next six months, Dr Harries said: ‘We actually anticipate our numbers will get worse over the next week, possibly two, and then we are looking to see whether we have managed to push that curve down and we start to see a decline.’
She added: ‘This is not to say we would be in complete lockdown for six months, but as a nation we have to be really, really responsible and keep doing what we’re all doing until we’re sure we can gradually start lifting various interventions which are likely to be spaced – based on the science and our data – until we gradually come back to a normal way of living.’
Mr Johnson, who is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19, has written an open letter to the British public warning that ‘things will get worse before they get better’ as he stressed the need to stay indoors to support the NHS by slowing the spread.
But criticism is growing of the government’s handling.
Jeremy Hunt today demanded the government speeds up progress on mass testing – saying it is the fastest way to end the coronavirus lockdown.
The former health secretary – now chair of the influential Commons health committee – pointed to the regime in place in South Korea, where ‘restaurants are open’.
The call came as Tony Blair warned Britain might have to carry out 180million coronavirus checks to defeat the deadly disease.
The ex-PM said testing will need to carry on for a long time, as even if the outbreak subsides there will be a threat of ‘resurgence’.
He said ‘virtually everyone’ will need to be tested for whether they have coronavirus.
And Mr Blair warned that might need to happen two or three times to combat any return of the outbreak. That could potentially mean in the region of 180million individual tests.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove confirmed this morning that the number of UK tests per day has reached 10,000.
At that rate it could take more than 50 years to check the whole 66million-strong population three times – although Mr Gove stressed that the numbers are being urgently increased.
He declined to give a timescale for when all frontline NHS staff will get access to checks, after small-scale trials were launched.
And there is still no clear idea when the UK will be conducting the 25,000 tests a day promised by Boris Johnson – let alone the longer term ambition of 250,000 a day.
The normally bustling streets of central London are once again deserted today as people choose to stay home amid the coronavirus threat
Nine-year-old Eve looks out of the front window at home, as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases grow around the world
The news comes as Governmental advisers warn that even stricter social distancing measures could be under way if the staggering increase in figures doesn’t stop
Earlier, Professor Ferguson said Britons will need to stay indoors for a full three months.
He told The Sunday Times: ‘We’re going to have to keep these measures [the full lockdown] in place, in my view, for a significant period of time – probably until the end of May, maybe even early June. May is optimistic.’
Professor Ferguson added that even if the lockdown is lifted, people will still need to abide by social distancing measures for months to come.
It came as Michael Gove today declined to be drawn on how long the tough measures restricting people’s lives would be in place for, and that ministers would not hesitate to enforce tougher rules if necessary.
‘There are different projections as to how long the lockdown might last,’ he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, when asked about one key expert’s prediction of June.
‘But it’s not the case that the length of the lockdown is something that is absolutely fixed.
Professor Neil Ferguson said Britons will need to stay indoors for a full three months
‘It depends on all of our behaviour. If we follow the guidelines, we can deal more effectively with the spread of the disease.’
But the positive message Mr Gove delivered was that the public appear to be heeding the advice.
‘At the moment, all the evidence is that people are observing the rules, if you look at the number of people on public transport that has fallen, if you look at footfall in supermarkets and other stores, that has fallen as well,’ he said.
‘We keep things under review in order to ensure that if there are further steps they can be implemented.’
To try and ensure the effectiveness of the lockdown, the Government is spending approximately £5.8million on letters that will land on 30 million doorsteps along with a leaflet spelling out the Government’s advice following much public confusion.
The letters and leaflets are the latest in a public information campaign from No 10 to convince people to stay at home, wash their hands and shield the most vulnerable from the disease.
‘We know things will get worse before they get better,’ the PM’s letter will read.
‘But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal.
‘It has been truly inspirational to see our doctors, nurses and other carers rise magnificently to the needs of the hour.
‘Thousands of retired doctors and nurses are returning to the NHS – and hundreds of thousands of citizens are volunteering to help the most vulnerable.
‘That is why, at this moment of national emergency, I urge you, please, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’
Amid allegations of confusing messages on the lockdown, the leaflet will outline the Government’s rules on leaving the house and advice on shielding vulnerable people.
A clear explanation of the symptoms will also be included as will guidance on hand washing.
Panic has gripped the nation as it was revealed that today’s total number of deaths is 34 per cent higher than yesterday’s and today has seen the largest daily increase since March 18, when the total shot up from 71 to 104.
The normally busy streets in Chinatown are completely deserted on Sunday as people choose to stay at home
The letters and leaflets are the latest in a public information campaign from No 10 to convince people to stay at home, wash their hands and shield the most vulnerable from the disease
A handout photo made available by n10 Downing street shows Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson chairing the morning Covid-19 meeting after self isolating after testing positive for the Coronavirus in n10 Downing street in London, Britain today
However, there has been a slight improvement in the daily rate of new cases. A further 2,510 patients were diagnosed with the virus today, a drop of 411 from the 2,921 new patients diagnosed yesterday.
It is unclear whether this drop in new cases is as a result of social distancing measures or because less people are being tested for the virus.
The deadly virus is continuing to spread across the country at an exponential rate – it took just 13 days for the number of deaths to go from one to more than 100.
And it has only taken a further 10 days for the total to go from 100 to more than 1,000.
Overall, the number of confirmed cases in the UK is 17,089. But just one week ago, the total paled in comparison at 5,018.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is already having to lead the response to the pandemic from Downing Street after he was diagnosed with the disease.
He has been accused of failing to follow his own social distancing rules after Health Secretary Matt Hancock tested positive and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty began self-isolating with symptoms.
The news comes as Governmental advisers warn that even stricter social distancing measures could be under way if the staggering increase in figures doesn’t stop.
It came as the true number of people infected with coronavirus in the UK could be as high as 1.6 million, with over half of those cases outside of London, analysis by health care data experts suggests.
The Cambridge family are self isolating at Anmer Hall on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk amid the Coronavirus pandemic, and shared a glimpse at their home office yesterday. Kate posed in her dusky pink trouser suit as she spoke on the phone. A row of books including an extensive set of Coralie Bickford-Smith for Penguin books can be seen on her wooden desk, along with her Aspinal notebook, while a sofa and and a window seat looking out onto the grounds can be seen in the background
Michael Gove says coronavirus tests have FINALLY hit 10,000 a day – but still can’t say when all NHS frontline staff will get checks
Britain is finally carrying out 10,000 tests per day to diagnose coronavirus, Michael Gove confirmed today.
Amid mounting criticism about slow progress gearing up the response, the Cabinet minister insisted the government was ‘very concerned’ about the growing death toll and was doing ‘all that we can’ to ‘accelerate’ the numbers of tests.
But he declined to give a timescale for when all frontline NHS staff will get access to checks – after small-scale trials were launched.
Britain is finally carrying out 10,000 tests per day to diagnose coronavirus, Michael Gove confirmed today
And there is still no clear idea when the UK will be conducting the 25,000 tests a day promised by Boris Johnson.
The comments came as former Tony Blair warned that nearly everyone in the UK will need to be tested – perhaps two or three times each.
And with a predicted daily growth rate of 20 per cent that figure may now stand at 2.8 million people, just three days after the modelling was carried out, reports The Sunday Telegraph.
Edge Health, a UK health care data analysis company, revealed that while the official figure of coronavirus cases stood at 10,000 on March 26, the company’s estimated true figure for infections in the UK was 1,614,505.
With widespread testing not yet available in Britain and swabs only being given to those in hospital and some NHS critical care staff, there could be thousands who have COVID-19 and are not aware of it, the study suggests.
Those with milder symptoms who are not admitted to hospital are also not accounted for in official figures.
A statement from NHS England said: ‘Patients were aged between 33 and 100 years old and all but 13 (aged between 63 and 99 years old) had underlying health conditions.’
The endorsement comes after the Prime Minister revealed on Friday that he had tested positive for coronavirus.
While Downing Street has indicated that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will take the reins if Mr Johnson is incapacitated, the Deltapoll survey shows that Mr Sunak – dubbed ‘dishy Rishi’ by his Treasury colleagues – is backed as a stand-in premier by more than three times as many voters.
Mr Johnson’s approach to the crisis receives overwhelming backing, with 78 per cent saying that he is handling it well.
However, that does not mean voters agree with the pace of implementation of Mr Johnson’s lockdown measures.
A group of furious locals blocked a Range Rover driver after he travelled 115 miles from Sheffield to Snowdonia despite the coronavirus lockdown
Government pandemic exercise predicted four years ago that Asian respiratory virus would overwhelm NHS
A Government exercise four years ago predicted a deadly virus from Asia would arrive in the UK and leave the NHS on its knees, but was not published because the results were ‘too terrifying’.
In October 2016, epidemiologists from Imperial College London told Government ministers what Britain would look like seven weeks into a pandemic.
Exercise Cygnus showed the NHS unable to cope, with a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for doctors and nurses, inadequate numbers of ventilators and mortuaries overflowing.
It was carried out by the same experts responsible for the nation’s coronavirus modelling, but the results were never revealed, reports the Sunday Telegraph.
A paper detailing Imperial’s research read: ‘The exercise was set seven weeks into a severe pandemic outbreak and challenged the NHS to review its response to an overwhelmed service with reduced staff availability.’
Cygnus was based on a virus similar to H2N2 influenza, which like COVID-19 causes deadly respiratory illness in patients.
A total of 63 per cent think that the social distancing rules were introduced too late.
On the controversial issue of testing, 83 per cent believe that doctors and nurses should be given priority but just 19 per cent think that senior politicians should be prioritised – and only 15 per cent think the Royal Family should.
Most people also think that Britain is in for a long haul, with half of those questioned expecting restrictions to be in place for three months.
And a majority think that tackling the outbreak is worth curtailing civil liberties, with 61 per cent agreeing that it is a necessary price.
The latest figures come after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack revealed he had developed mild symptoms of coronavirus and was self-isolating.
Government advisers said stricter social distancing policies may have to be rolled out next month if the grim figures continued to rise.
The measures would be introduced in three weeks as the outbreak reached its peak to further reduce ‘person-to-person interaction’.
This week France announced that individuals could only exercise alone – unless with children – for a maximum of an hour and within 1,000 yards of their homes.
How London became a Covid-19 hub as virus mutated into eight different strains and raced around the world – as coronavirus around the world as global cases top 666,000 and deaths hit 30,864
by Keith Griffith for Daily Mail
A fascinating video shows how London became a hub for the global spread of coronavirus after the initial outbreak in China.
Scientists have used genetic sequencing data to illustrate how different strands of the virus travelled to the UK via the capital and how it was passed on to other countries.
The map, produced by NextStrain.org, shows how COVID-19 started in Wuhan, before spreading across Asia to Singapore and South Korea, before being carried by travellers to London. From there, it was flown to the USA and across Europe.