Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has suggested the UK’s coronavirus lockdown could last at least another month.
As it stands, the lockdown remains indefinite, with a three-week review set to take place on Monday.
Hunt, who was health secretary for six years and now chairs the Commons health and social care committee, said on Wednesday that the lockdown is “going to need to continue for a while”.
When put to him that it could last for “another month, minimum”, he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “I think that’s a reasonable assumption.”
Explaining his thinking, Hunt, who stood against Boris Johnson in last summer’s Conservative leadership election, said: “When you have a lockdown, you would expect the impact of that lockdown to feed its way through in the levels of hospital admissions after about two weeks.
“But we’ve seen from Italy and other countries you don’t get a peak and then an immediate reduction. You stay in that peak level for some time.”
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He also pointed out the outbreak remains at different levels in different parts of the country, with Surrey Ambulance Service said to be one and a half weeks behind London Ambulance Service in its callout levels.
He said: “It’s not going to be necessarily a single picture, which is why I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that the lockdown is going to need to continue for a while, and we don’t need to take this decision at the beginning of next week.
“In a situation like this, the only thing you can do is look at other countries and get a sense from what happens in the countries that are ahead of us in the disease curve.
“In Italy we are now seeing sustained reductions in the death rates, but it took them two to three weeks to get there, so it seems to me [the UK hits] the peak perhaps at the beginning of next week, then you have two to three more weeks before you start to see the numbers decisively turning. That’s what would be reasonable to expect.”
Around the same time as Hunt spoke, Downing Street said the three-week review of the coronavirus lockdown will go ahead as planned, but that the public needed to “stick with it” at a “critical time” in the epidemic.
Johnson’s official spokesman said the review would take place “on or around” the three-week mark on Monday.
At the same time, he said chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer for England Prof Chris Whitty had made clear it was too early to say when the pandemic would reach its peak and when it would be safe to ease the restrictions.
The spokesman said: “Our focus for now needs to be relentlessly upon stopping the transmission of this disease while building capacity in the NHS. That is how we will save lives.
“We need to keep delivering a very clear message to the public that while this is difficult, we need to stick with it.
“We are at a critical time in our fight against coronavirus and they need to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.”