The EU has flatly contradicted Boris Johnson’s claim coronavirus is on a “downward slope”, warning the UK is one of five European countries where infection numbers have yet to significantly decline.
Last Thursday, Johnson declared during the daily coronavirus press conference in Downing Street that the UK is “past the peak and on the downward slope” of the pandemic.
Referring to the draconian lockdown imposed on 23 March, he added: “Your effort and your sacrifice is working.”
However, Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), told EU lawmakers on Monday that Britain, Poland, Romania and Sweden had seen "no substantial changes in the last 14 days". It added Bulgaria was still recording an increase in cases.
For all other European countries, she said, there was a drop in cases, adding: "As of Saturday, it appears that the initial wave of transmission (in Europe) has passed its peak.”
Nearly 190,000 coronavirus cases and almost 28,500 deaths have been recorded in Britain. Italy is the only European country to have had more cases.
The ECDC's assessment on Britain is in line with data on the overall increase of deaths from all causes reported by EuroMOMO, an EU-backed monitoring project on mortality.
England has seen the highest rise in deaths over the five-year average among several European nations screened by EuroMOMO.
As of 26 April, England had Europe's highest rise of so-called "excess deaths" – the number above the forecast average – and recorded an increase from the previous week in the general indicator that tracks death in all ages.
Epidemiologists say these statistics help to build a more complete picture of the overall impact of epidemics, given many fatalities go unreported or are misreported when their number surges dramatically in such short periods.
When contacted by Yahoo News UK about the claims, a Downing Street spokesperson reiterated Boris Johnson's statement that the UK is “past the peak”.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
Epidemiologists said these statistics help to build a more complete picture of the overall impact of epidemics, given many fatalities go unreported or are misreported when their number surges dramatically in such short periods.
Boris Johnson is expected to extend Britain’s lockdown period on Thursday, then set out plans for a gradual easing of restrictions from the end of May in a live address on Sunday night.
On Monday, Johnson released a video message warning that lifting lockdown restrictions too soon would be “the worst thing we could do”.
In a video message on Twitter, the prime minister said it was important to meet the five tests set by the government before easing the lockdown.
“We will only be able to move on to the second phase of this conflict if our five tests have been met,” he said.
The tests are: the NHS must have sufficient critical care capacity; there must be a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths; the infection rate must be decreasing to “manageable levels”; there must be enough PPE and testing supply; and any adjustments must not lead to a second peak that could overwhelm the health service.
Elsewhere, a body of experts shadowing the government’s Sage scientific advisory board has warned the UK to plan for a coronavirus pandemic lasting “years to come” on Monday.
Deenan Pillay, professor of virology at University College London, said at the body’s first meeting on Monday: “It is the mantra here that we somehow need to survive until a vaccine becomes available.
“But of course not only is there uncertainty around that, but even when a vaccine becomes available, that vaccine does not infer 100% protection in everyone that is given it.”
He added: “We're actually thinking for a long-term pandemic with ups and downs, an endemic infection that will come up and down for maybe years to come.”