The medical director of NHS England has said he can see some “green shoots” in the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus epidemic, as the daily death toll hit a record 381 people.
Stephen Powis said there had been a “bit of a plateau” in the number of people testing positive for coronavirus, but he warned against complacency as a result.
He made the remarks at a press conference alongside Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, who said it was “deeply shocking, disturbing, moving” that so many people had died, including a healthy 19-year-old. The latest figures take the total UK death toll from Covid-19 to 1,789.
However, Powis said there was some cause for hope in the relatively flat numbers of people testing positive for coronavirus. “It is really important not to read too much because it is really early days. We are not out of the woods, we are very much in the woods,” he told the No 10 press conference.
“So green shoots but only green shoots and we must not be complacent and we must not take our foot off the pedal.”
Gove, Powis, and Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, were also grilled about the UK’s failure to increase testing for coronavirus to levels seen in other countries. Germany is estimated to be testing 70,000 daily, compared with the UK’s latest total of 8,240 people in a day.
Gove said the UK was suffering from a shortages of chemical reagents used for testing live cases of the virus, which is currently only available for patients in hospital and some NHS workers. “We want to increase the number of tests. We are increasing the number of tests,” he said.
There is concern among public health academics that without widespread testing of the public for new virus hotspots as they arise, then there will be no easy way out of the lockdown.
However, Harries appeared to favour a strategy of testing people in the community to see if they are already immune, when a test for that is available.
“At the moment, if you were a member of the public and you tested positive, you would not be taking any different action to the action that we are asking you to do currently,” she said.
“If we send a clinical team out to test you at your home, we would be using capacity we could be using in the health service.”
She said it was the immunity test – yet to be approved – that provided “the secret to the answer about the lockdown”.
“Then we will understand the proportion of the population that could still get it,” she said.