The government announced the extension at a daily press briefing on Thursday (17 Apr), after warning that lifting restrictions too early could risk a dangerous second peak of the virus.
When will the number of cases peak?
The UK is now believed to be in the peak of its coronavirus outbreak, according to the government’s Chief Medical Officer.
Speaking at a daily press briefing on Wednesday (15 Apr), Chris Whitty said that the country was “probably reaching the peak overall” and that the infection curve is now starting to flatten.
The number of new cases of people testing positive for coronavirus plateaued over the past week, although experts stressed that this doesn’t mean the death toll will immediately start to follow suit.
He said: “We do all think this has flattened out, but sadly we do think high numbers of deaths will continue for a short while.
“My expectation would be that the number of deaths may well go up, because after every weekend we see a dip over the weekend, and for two days afterwards, then an increase as we catch up with the numbers.”
Are social distancing measures working?
Despite assurances that the government’s plan to tackle the virus “is working”, and social distancing measures are having the right effect, Whitty and Health Secretary Matt Hancock were quick to warn that it is still early to start lifting restrictions.
Whitty said: “We are not yet at the point where we can confidently and safely say we are past the peak and that we can think much about the next phases.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries said that if social distancing measures are strictly observed, a decline in the number of cases should follow after the initial peak.
She said: “If people have cut down their social interactions, we would start to see a change in the graph.
“The peak will be pushed forward, but the height will be lower and we can manage NHS hospital care safely.”
When could lockdown be lifted?
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the Prime Minister while he recovers from coronavirus, said the latest data suggested the UK was “starting to win” the battle against the virus, three weeks since restrictions were imposed.
However, Mr Raab insisted the virus is not yet past its peak and that it is still too early to relax the measures, prompting the extension until at least 7 May.
Mr Raab said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before it would consider it safe to adjust the current measures.
- Protect the NHS's ability to cope and be confident that the NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care across the UK
- A sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak
- Reliable data from Government scientific advisers showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
- Confidence that testing capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) are in hand with "supply able to meet future demand"
- Confidence that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections.
Mr Raab added that the rate of infection - the R0 value - was "almost certainly below one in the community", meaning infected people were passing the disease on to fewer than one other person on average.
"But overall we still don't have the infection rate down as far as we need to," he said.
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