Lockdown in place until a second peak can be avoided

COVID-19 UPDATE: Wednesday 29 April

Foreign secretary, Dominic Raab led the briefing from Downing Street today. He was joined by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer, and Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England.

  • The death toll from the virus in the UK rises to more than 26,000 after care home deaths are included for first time
  • Today’s data show that road traffic has increased to the highest rate since 23 March, when lockdown began
  • There will be no easing of social distancing measures before scientists are confident that a second peak can be avoided

Coronavirus death toll reaches 26,097 in the UK

26,097 people have tragically died from coronavirus.

For the first time this figure includes deaths in care homes and the community as well as hospitals, 2 March to 28 April. These people died after a positive test result.

To date, the government has mainly reported deaths in hospital, but recent developments mean we can now get a clearer idea.

This figure will probably rise once data has been collected more accurately.

20% divergence in death rates dependent on setting

Yvonne Doyle said that we can now see a 20% divergence in deaths in hospitals and deaths in all settings.

The new information on care homes is valuable, particularly because it shows how “dangerous” coronavirus is and because it will help the UK to manage the trajectory of the disease, added.

We’re at a “delicate and dangerous” moment

The peak is “flattening” due to overwhelming support from the public, said Dominic Raab.

However, social distancing measures will not be eased until government is confident that a "second peak" can be avoided. A “second phase” is being formulated but Dominic Raab asked the public to be patient until early May, when the government's committee of scientific advisers, (Sage) is likely to report to ministers.

How are we performing with the five lockdown tests?

When he was asked about how many of the government's five tests for easing the lockdown are being met, Dominic Raab said that he will not know until Sage has reported in early May.

He stated that the NHS has not been overwhelmed – and this is a good sign.

Beware lifting outdoor restrictions

Jonathan Van-Tam said that not enough is known about the spread of the virus and the effect of being outside or inside, and therefore what this might mean for social distancing. We will know more, he said, when “more data” on this new disease are available.

He warned that government must be "extremely painstaking" in easing instructions in this area. The virus will "absolutely come back" and stay around for "quite some time".

Maintaining social distancing will be 'tricky' in schools

Jonathan Van-Tam sympathised with everyone who is missing the structure and stimulation of school.

Nevertheless, he stated that the scientific evidence "is not settled" and any decision to re-open schools will be informed by careful, painstaking research.

Testing is complex in the care home sector

Dominic Raab was asked how care homes will be helped to test staff and residents. He said that "everything possible" is being done but acknowledged that there has been a "distribution issue".

Could care home deaths have been avoided?

Dominic Raab was asked whether the number of deaths in care homes could have been improved with more rigorous testing and screening had been, and if residents leaving hospital before 16 April had been tested.

He said the government’s priority had been to control the "ebb and flow" of the transmission of the virus in care homes and conceded that the government will learn lessons from this unprecedented public health crisis

Yvonne Doyle said that large numbers of fatalities in care homes could have been anticipated as over-75 year olds have been demonstrably vulnerable to the virus.

She concluded that the “structure of care homes” will be a feature of any future review of the handling of the crisis.

Can hospices get the PPE they need?

Typically, hospices fall outside the NHS supply chain. As a result, some are having to buy PPE on the open market – at inflated prices and at the same time as having to care for three times as many patients as normal.

Mr Raab answered by saying that his heart goes out to those working in hospices. The government will do everything it can to provide them with the equipment they need, both by increasing domestic production overseas procurement.