The coronavirus epidemic in the UK appears to be starting to slow down, a leading UK scientist has said, with the number of new hospital admissions appearing to be reducing.
Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said the slowing of the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, was the result of the social distancing measures brought in by the government.
“In the UK we can see some early signs of slowing in some indicators – less so deaths because deaths are lagged by a long time from when measures come in force,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Professor Ferguson, who has been advising the government on the outbreak that has so far killed more than 1,200 people in the UK, added: “If we look at the numbers of new hospital admissions, that does appear to be slowing down a bit now.
“It has not yet plateaued, so still the numbers can be increasing each day but the rate of that increase has slowed.”
Professor Ferguson said the epidemic was spreading at different rates in different parts of the country.
“In central London it could be as many as 3% to 5% of the population has been infected – maybe more in individual hotspots,” he said. “In the country as a whole in the UK, maybe 2% or 3%.”
He said antibody tests, currently in final stages of validation, would be “critical” to the understanding of the epidemic, adding they would “hopefully” be available in days.
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The comments come as Boris Johnson writes to 30 million households across the country warning that the outbreak will get “worse before it gets better”.
On Sunday, a key government doctor said normal life will not resume for at least six months as all parts of the UK are placed on an “emergency footing” to tackle the outbreak.
Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, said the nation will not be in “complete lockdown” for half a year but that social distancing measures will be lifted gradually.
PM posts video message
Meanwhile, the prime minister, who is in isolation in his flat above 11 Downing Street, revealed in a video message that some 20,000 former NHS staff have returned to help in the fight against the outbreak.
He also said the UK will get through the coronavirus crisis “together”.
“We are going to do it, we are going to do it together. One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society,” Johnson said.
Thanks to everyone who has been staying at home.
By delaying the spread of the disease we can reduce the pressure on our NHS, and that's how we hope to save many thousands of lives.#StayHomeSaveLives pic.twitter.com/kxdqItMYSE
— Boris Johnson #StayHomeSaveLives (@BorisJohnson) March 29, 2020
The PM thanked the doctors, nurses and other former professionals for returning to duty, as well as the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to aid the health service.
He said the public appeared to be obeying the terms of the lockdown to slow the spread of the disease, saying train use is down 95% and buses down 75%.
“Thank you to everybody who’s now coming back into the NHS in such huge numbers,” he said.
NHS under pressure
British Medical Association chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul called for testing to be rolled out to all healthcare staff, in particular those in general practice.
Asked what he would ask the government, he told BBC Breakfast: “I would like to know when are we going to see the testing extended to all sectors of the health service because all of us are playing a part in trying to combat this disease.”
Dr Nagpaul questioned why testing frontline NHS workers was only now being started in England.
He added: “What I would say is it’s really important not to delay this any further and ensure this is available to all healthcare staff.”
There is growing concern as to the lack of NHS frontline workers being tested for coronavirus.
Public Health England tweeted that the latest figure for the daily number of COVID-19 tests conducted is 9,114. This was accurate as of 9am on Saturday, it said.
Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said around 25% to 30% of its workforce is currently off work.
He said testing being rolled out to frontline NHS workers would make a “big difference”.
“I have got lots of colleagues at the moment who are sitting at home with family members who have got symptoms,” he said.
“They themselves don’t have symptoms and are champing at the bit to try to get back to work.
“So, if we can get the tests and get those people back on the shop floor, then that would be brilliant.”