UK’s chief scientific adviser says he doesn’t know when coronavirus lockdown will end


UK’s chief scientific adviser says he doesn’t know when coronavirus lockdown will end

The UK's chief scientific adviser has said that the Government cannot tell the public when lockdown will end - because they don't know. Speaking

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The UK’s chief scientific adviser has said that the Government cannot tell the public when lockdown will end – because they don’t know. 

Speaking at Downing Street‘s daily virus news conference tonight, Sir Patrick Vallance said that it would be ‘premature’ to put a time frame on the next steps of the fight against coronavirus because cases and deaths must stabilise first.  

‘I think its premature to put a time, an absolute time, on how long this goes on for,’ he said.

Sir Patrick said that the first step was to reduce the rate of transmission to ensure the NHS can cope with the amount of Covid-19 cases.

‘We need to do phase one then we need to think about how we release these [measures] in the right way and at the right approach,’ he added.

Sir Patrick also warned admissions will continue to rise for three weeks before slowing.

But he said the number of new hospitalisations was rising gradually, suggesting strict social measures introduced last week were having the ‘desired effect’.

 It comes as figures suggest the outbreak in the UK may finally be starting to slow after the daily death toll dropped for the second day in a row, with 180 new fatalities recorded overnight.

Hospital admissions are looking steady a week after the severe restrictions were imposed on the UK - with all regions seeing a steady rise

Hospital admissions are looking steady a week after the severe restrictions were imposed on the UK - with all regions seeing a steady rise

Hospital admissions are looking steady a week after the severe restrictions were imposed on the UK – with all regions seeing a steady rise 

The NHS is coping despite a surge in coronavirus hospital admissions, according to the UK's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

The NHS is coping despite a surge in coronavirus hospital admissions, according to the UK's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

The NHS is coping despite a surge in coronavirus hospital admissions, according to the UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance

The UK’s spiralling coronavirus death toll has jumped to 1,408 after 180 more fatalities were recorded in a single day 

Addressing the nation at the briefing, Sir Patrick said: ‘The measures are in place, they are making a difference, they are decreasing the contact which is so important to spread the disease and we’re doing a good job at cutting that down.

‘What you can see is there’s been an increase in the number of cases since the middle of March through to today.

‘We expect that measures that are in place that cause that social distancing, the stay at home message will be reducing the number of cases of transmission in the community and decreasing the number of cases overall.’

Sir Patrick added: ‘Roughly 1,000 a day [admissions]… that’s not an acceleration. It’s quite important, it tells you that actually this is a bit more stable than it has been.

Pictured: A graph showing the change in transport use as the public is encouraged to practise social distancing

Pictured: A graph showing the change in transport use as the public is encouraged to practise social distancing

Pictured: A graph showing the change in transport use as the public is encouraged to practise social distancing 

‘The measures we are taking will stop the transmission, delay the transmission, reduce the amount of transmission in the community and therefore reduce the number of people who might die from the infection.

‘I want to thank the people in the NHS working extremely hard. What all of us can do is heed the advice and stay at home so we can reduce the number of people who will be seriously ill or die from this infection.’

Sir Patrick said the UK can expect to see cases continue to rise for three weeks before falling.  

He added: ‘This is a bit more stable than it has been. I do expect that number to continue. 

The UK’s coronavirus deaths are compared to Spain, France, Italy, China, South Korea, Germany and the US in this Public Health England chart

Daily increases in cases appear to be slowing for the first time in the outbreak - but scientists maintain the worst is still to come and say the apparent slowdown should be taken with a pinch of salt

Daily increases in cases appear to be slowing for the first time in the outbreak - but scientists maintain the worst is still to come and say the apparent slowdown should be taken with a pinch of salt

Daily increases in cases appear to be slowing for the first time in the outbreak – but scientists maintain the worst is still to come and say the apparent slowdown should be taken with a pinch of salt

‘I expect people coming every day to be about that, it may go up a little bit. And in two or three weeks you would expect that to stabilise and to start to go down a bit.

‘That is not a rapid acceleration number. It is an important number, it is a difficult number to deal with and it is a number that NHS staff are clearly coping with in terms of what they are doing at the moment.’  

As of this afternoon a total of 1,408 people in Britain have died from coronavirus. England recorded 159 new deaths in the last 24 hours, while Wales reported 14, Northern Ireland six and Scotland one. 

It marks the first time the daily increase in deaths has fallen for two days straight, dropping from 209 on Sunday and 260 on Saturday – in what was Britain’s darkest day in the crisis yet. 

But there are fears of a fresh spike in fatalities tomorrow because officials will count deaths outside of hospitals for the first time.

Until now, the figures have not included people who succumbed to the virus before being admitted to hospital. 

Meanwhile the number of confirmed cases in Britain has now soared past 22,000 after 2,619 new positive tests in the last 24 hours – an 8 per cent rise from yesterday’s daily increase of 2,433.

But experts predict the true number to be more than two million because of the Government’s decision to only test patients so ill they are admitted to hospital. 

Dominic Raab today unveiled a £75m effort to bring back home stranded Britons stuck abroad due to the coronavirus crisis

Dominic Raab today unveiled a £75m effort to bring back home stranded Britons stuck abroad due to the coronavirus crisis

Dominic Raab today unveiled a £75m effort to bring back home stranded Britons stuck abroad due to the coronavirus crisis  

Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is ‘starting to slow’ as rate of increase in hospital admissions ‘eases’, says government expert Neil Ferguson – but he warns deaths WILL keep rising 

The UK’s coronavirus outbreak looks to be slowing down because of the Government’s unprecedented decision to put Britain in lockdown, one of Number 10‘s leading experts said today. 

Professor Neil Ferguson claims to have detected ‘early signs’ that the spread of the life-threatening infection was being curbed by the draconian measure, with the rate of increase in hospital admissions easing.

But Professor Ferguson – one of the authors of a bleak Imperial College London report that convinced Downing Street to ramp up its efforts to stop the crisis after warning that 250,000 Brits could die under a controversial plan to build-up ‘herd immunity’ – warned deaths are still likely to rise sharply as they lag two or three weeks behind the new infections. 

He also suggested that up to three per cent of the UK – around two million people – might already have been infected, and said the figure could be as high as five per cent in London.

The slight glimmer of optimism emerged after Boris Johnson delivered a rallying cry for Britain to work together, thanking everyone who was contributing in a video from his quarantine bunker in Downing Street

But deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries has warned that Britons should not expect a return to ‘normal life’ for six months, and possibly longer.

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist from Stanford University today also claimed that the coronavirus outbreaks in New York City and Italy were burning out.

Professor Michael Levitt, who accurately predicted the demise of China‘s crisis after analysing the raw data, added Spain‘s outbreak also looks to be slowing – but added there ‘aren’t enough numbers’ to say the same for the UK.

Public Health Wales said there were 210 new cases in the last 24 hours, bringing the country’s total number of confirmed infections to 1,451.

The number of infections north of the Border jumped to 1,536 after 179 people were diagnosed yesterday and Northern Ireland reported 533 confirmed cases following 123 new positive tests. 

In England, 22,141 have now tested positive after 2,107 more people were diagnosed overnight.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stood in for the Prime Minister at Downing Street’s daily coronavirus conference tonight while the Prime Minister self-isolates after contracting the virus –

Mr Raab revealed ‘tens of thousands’ of stranded British travellers would be flown home under a £75million new partnership between the Government and airlines.  

The Foreign Secretary said the UK government will now step in to provide ‘special charter flights’ from parts of the world where commercial flights are no longer in operation.

The government has struck a partnership deal with British Airways, Easyjet, Jet2 and other airlines to provide the planes for the effort.

Speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus press conference in 10 Downing Street, Mr Raab said: ‘Under the arrangements that we are putting in place we will target flights from a range of priority countries, starting this week.’

However, Mr Raab said in countries where commercial flights are still in operation, the instruction is still for Britons to buy tickets home ‘as soon as possible’.

‘Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home,’ he said.

‘That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled.’

He also told airlines they must allow passengers to change tickets, including between carriers, as he told travellers: ‘For those still in those countries where commercial options are still available, don’t wait, don’t run the risk of getting stranded, the airlines are standing by to help you, please book your tickets as soon as possible.

‘Where commercial flights are no longer running the government will provide the necessary financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back home.

‘Once special charter flights have been arranged we will promote them through the government’s travel advice and by the British embassy or high commission in the relevant country.’

Mr Raab said the £75m being made available by the government will be used to ‘support those flights and the airlines in order to keep the cost down and affordable for those seeking to return to the UK’.

Hundreds of thousands of Britons are stranded abroad and are scrambling to return to the UK, including 6,000 who are marooned in New Zealand with thousands more trapped in Peru.

The government advised against all non-essential foreign travel on March 17 before then urging all UK residents abroad to return home as soon as possible on March 23.

However, many people have found it difficult, if not impossible, to buy commercial plane tickets after widespread flight cancellations while many of those who have found tickets have faced steep prices.

Mr Raab said that a Foreign Office helpline set up to deal with traveller questions normally receives about 1,000 calls a day but last Tuesday the number of calls hit an all time record at 15,000.

He said that as a result the government had increased resources at the call centre to make sure questions got answered as he tried to reassure worried families.

‘For those stranded or for families nervously awaiting news and wanting to see their loved ones return home, we are doing everything we can,’ he said.

‘We have improved our advice and boosted the call centre so travellers get better and swifter information.

‘We have put in place this arrangement with the airlines so that we can reach more British citizens in vulnerable circumstances abroad where commercial flights aren’t running and we are working intensively round the clock with all of our partner countries and governments around the world to keep open the airports, the ports and the flights to bring people home.

‘We have not faced an international challenge quite like this before but together we are going to rise to it and of course here at home we can all support our NHS by continuing to follow the guidance to stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.’

The government’s repatriation efforts will be prioritised to help the most vulnerable passengers get home, with special flights expected to initially focus on areas with the largest numbers of British travellers.

New Zealand has imposed one of the strictest lockdowns of any country to battle the deadly disease, and has grounded international flights, leaving thousands of Brits, including doctors and nurses, desperate to get home.

Mr Raab had already called Winston Peters, New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister, to ask for assistance in getting Brits home.

The Foreign Secretary’s announcement comes after two repatriation flights carrying British passengers from Peru landed at Heathrow Airport.

The British Airways flights left Lima on Sunday and landed in London this morning.

The Foreign Office has not said how many passengers were on board, but said two more flights will leave Peru on Monday, arriving in the UK tomorrow.

The repatriation flights were arranged by the Foreign Office in partnership with British Airways to rescue more than 1,000 stranded Britons.


What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.