Johnson faces lockdown dilemma as scientists warn over grim virus data | Health policy

The number of new cases of Covid-19 being diagnosed is still much too high to allow any easing of the lockdown soon, leading scientists have warned, as the virus death toll in UK hospitals passed 20,000 on Saturday.

The home secretary, Priti Patel, described the figure as a “terrible milestone” and a “deeply tragic and moving moment”. She said it showed the need for the British public to “stay strong” and remain at home for the foreseeable future.

A further 813 deaths were reported in hospitals, taking the UK total to 20,319. This figure does not include deaths from Covid-19 in care homes, hospices and in the community.

As ministers came under increasing pressure to ease the lockdown from the business community and Tory MPs concerned at the plight of small firms in their own constituencies, scientists said the drop in new coronavirus cases being reported daily was disappointingly slow.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the government’s Sage group of Covid-19 experts, said if the lockdown was eased now, the newly enhanced testing and contact tracing system being put in place would be swamped.

“The strategy behind plans to lift the lockdown is based on the idea [that] you could then control the epidemic by testing people for infections before tracing their contacts,” Edmunds said.

Police patrolling Victoria Park, east London on Saturday.
Police patrolling Victoria Park, east London on Saturday. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

“However, if we lifted the lockdown now, the testing and tracing system would be overwhelmed. We will have to get case numbers down a lot lower than they are now before we can think of lifting current regulations.”

Professor Keith Neal of Nottingham University agreed that the number of patients being taken to hospital with Covid-19 remained far too high. “This daily figure peaked on 5 April with 5,903 cases. This Saturday it stood at 3,583,” he added. This latter figure was boosted by an extra 1,330 new cases of infected care and health workers, which brought Saturday’s overall total to 4,913.

“It has therefore taken three weeks for numbers of hospitalised Covid-19 patients to decline from a daily total of 5,903 to 3,641.”

Professor Paul Hunter, of the University of East Anglia, added: “There is no doubt this rate of decline is disappointing. Certainly it is far too high to consider lifting lockdown restrictions at present. We need to get numbers down to a few hundred new cases a day before we can do that. Such a decline could take months.”

Source link