Health secretary Matt Hancock has said it is “perfectly possible” that the coronavirus outbreak will peak in the UK around Easter Sunday, with as many as 1,000 deaths a day in the period leading up to it.
Speaking at the opening of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in London, Mr Hancock suggested that the high point of the pandemic could come within weeks and said the NHS was preparing for 1,000 deaths a day or worse.
Pressed on suggestions from officials that the daily death rates could peak on 12 April, he told Sky News: "I defer to the scientists on the exact predictions they make.
"I'm not going to steer you away from that, I think that is one perfectly possible outcome.
"Of course there is uncertainty around that. Part of the challenge of communicating about this disease and our response to it is there are a lot of things we don't yet know and this is one of them.
"But we are prepared not only for that eventuality but also in case it's worse than that, because I want to make sure that the NHS is prepare for all reasonable outcomes, as well as something that might be closer to the central projection."
Modelling by the government and public health experts predicted a slow daily increase in cases of coronavirus until the number of infections was expected to shoot up, known as the peak of the outbreak.
Ministers had originally hoped to delay this period, which will put the NHS under the greatest strain, until the warmer months but lockdown measures were brought in on 23 March to flatten the peak and bring it forward.
Earlier, the health secretary said the peak would come within weeks if the public continues to observe the lockdown, saying the predictions were “very sensitive” to how many people following strict social distancing guidelines.
So far, 163,194 people in the UK have been tested for Covid-19 - roughly 0.2 per cent of the population. Some 2,921 people have died in hospital.
Mr Hancock was speaking at the ExCel Centre in London, where a new 4,000-bed field hospital has opened to care for coronavirus patients.
Set up in only nine days, the London facility is the first to open its doors, with other hospitals planned across the country, including in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
Mr Hancock said the new hospital was "testament to the work and the brilliance of the many people involved" and praised the NHS for its response to the coronavirus crisis.
He said: "In these troubled times with this invisible killer stalking the whole world, the fact that in this country we have the NHS is even more valuable than before."
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