The number of daily deaths of people with coronavirus in the UK has “flattened off”, but there will be no “sudden fall away” in cases, England’s chief medical officer has warned.
Speaking at the daily government coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, Chris Whitty said the downward movement in deaths in other countries has been fairly slow and the UK should expect the same.
“Even in those countries which started their epidemic curve earlier than the UK, and which are still ahead, the downward slope from the point where we change is a relatively slow one,” he said.
“We should anticipate the same situation in the UK. We should not expect this to be a sudden fall away of cases.”
Mr Whitty explained that an exit from the lockdown and social distance measures imposed since the outbreak required a “highly effective vaccine and/or highly effective drugs”.
The chance of having both by the end of this year was “incredibly small” and until then the UK would need to rely on disruptive social distancing measures, he said.
He added: “This disease will not be eradicated, it will not disappear.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in to lead the government response as Boris Johnson recovers from the virus, warned there could be a second spike in the virus and a second lockdown if restrictions are relaxed now.
He said: “We are making progress through the peak of this virus – but we’re not out of the woods yet.”
It comes after MPs were told the UK is “at the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak as the number of UK hospital deaths rose above 18,000.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, delivering an update on the government’s COVID-19 response in the House of Commons, thanked the British public for their “steadfast commitment” in following lockdown rules.
In his first Prime Minister’s Questions since becoming Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of being behind the curve on lockdown, testing and driving up supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required by nurses and doctors.
During the news conference, Mr Whitty insisted the UK has enough PPE at the national level but there were local shortages that could persist.
Doctors on the front line have said they do not have enough PPE, particularly with a shortage of protective gowns.
Mr Whitty said: “We are still close to the line.
“At national level we’re not under water on anything that I’m aware of… but of course there may be local issues.”
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