COVID-19 UPDATE – Thursday 16 April
First Secretary of State, Dominic Raab led the panel for today’s Downing Street media briefing. He was joined by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser.
- Coronavirus lockdown measures will go on for at least three more weeks
- In the US, Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York has confirmed that the state’s lockdown will be extended until 15 May
Dominic Raab confirmed the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths in the UK has now reached 13,729. Each is a heartreaking loss, he said.
Mixed and inconsistent evidence
Government advisers say the evidence of the success of social distancing measures is "mixed and inconsistent. He said that “we still don't have infection rates down as much as we need to.
For this reason, current measures will continue for three more weeks.
Five points to influence decisions on social distancing
Dominic Raab expressed his wish to be transparent about when the government will feel able to ease social distancing measures.
He set out five points that will inform the government's decision:
- Ensuring the NHS can cope
- Gaining evidence of a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates
- Having reliable data which shows that infection rates are decreasing to manageable levels
- Being confident in the range of operational challenges. E.g. testing and the PPE
- Having confidence that adjustments will not increase the risk of a second peak
'Important change' to rate of infections in UK
Patrick Vallance said it is "highly likely" the average person in the community is infecting one person or less. This means the 'R rate' is less than one. This is an “important change” but the rate may be higher in areas such as care homes. He went on to day that the number of deaths is likely to "reach a plateau" before it begins to fall.
The R rate is important because evidence suggests that without social distancing, an infected person would pass the virus on to 2.5 people. Lockdown has brought this number down to below one, and Patrick Vallance said this shows that the epidemic is in decline. The danger is that easing social distancing measures increases the chance that numbers will go up again.
Patrick Vallance cautioned that social distancing may have to continue in some form until a vaccine is available.
Business as usual with China?
When asked about our post-pandemic relationship with China, Dominic Raab said that we will need a "a review of the lessons" from this emergency, and the UK government "can't flinch from that at all".
He added that “the one thing this has taught us is the value and importance of international cooperation."