Those who tuned into the government's daily press conference were given a glimpse of what will come to pass if Boris Johnson has to take a break from his duties as a result of his coronavirus diagnosis. The government's 'designated survivor' Dominic Raab led the conference – providing an update on Foreign Office efforts to bring Brits stranded abroad back home. A £75 million fund has been set up with the aim of bringing tens of thousands home.
However, the main update came from Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance who gave a presentation on the effect social distancing has had in the UK so far through four graphs. Vallance said there had been promising signs when it comes to slowing transmission of the virus. While Vallance was reluctant to put a time stamp on how long social distancing measures could be in place in the UK, he did suggest that the peak of infections could be two to three weeks away rather than a previous estimate of mid-May:'What I've said recently is that we expect this to get worse over the next couple of weeks because there is a lag phase between getting the disease and people turning up in hospital. So we would expect to see a continuation of this over the next two or three weeks then a stabilisation and a gradual decrease thereafter. The number of hospital admissions - to repeat - has gone up roughly the same amount each day, suggesting that we are not on a fast acceleration at the moment.'
This chimes with James's revelation on Saturday that the estimate in government is that the crisis is going to come to a head quicker than expected. The week beginning 12 April, not mid-May, is expected to be the peak of the virus – after that is ‘when we’d expect to see things level off’.
Here are the graphs, as presented by the government:
1. Social distancing has seen a big drop in public transport use
Vallance said that this slide shows social distancing measures have been 'successful in terms of the behaviour changes': 'This shows the use of transport over time from the end of February through to now and you can see a dramatic fall off in the use of the London tube down to just a few per cent of what it was back at the end of February, a decrease in bus use, a decrease in National Rail and a decrease also in the use in motor vehicles. So the measures are in place, they are making a difference, they are decreasing the contact which is so important to spread the disease'.
2. New UK Cases: there has been an increase since mid-March
Vallance says there has been an increase in the number of cases since the middle of March through to today – but a decrease could be on the cards soon: 'The stay at home message will be reducing the number of cases of transmission in the community and decreasing the number of cases overall as the cases flatten off. And we shouldn't take too much attention to individual day to day variation. We need to look over time and see what's happening. We would expect this in turn to decrease the number of people needing admission to hospital'
3. Hospital admissions: 'We're not on a fast acceleration at the moment'
Vallance says this graph shows the total number of people admitted to hospital or since the middle of March, which is now eight thousand people with coronavirus. He said that while the number of admissions are increasing it is going up in a 'constant amount' – 'which may suggest that we're already beginning to see some effects through about half of those cases'. Vallance said when it comes to government projections, things will get worse before they get better: 'We expect this to get worse over the next couple of weeks because there's a lag phase between getting the disease and people turning up in hospital. So you would expect to see a continuation of this at least over two or three weeks, then a stabilisation and a gradual decrease thereafter. The number of hospital admissions to repeat has gone up roughly the same amount each day, suggesting that we're not on a fast acceleration at the moment'.
4. Covid-19 deaths: UK is tracking alongside France
The final slide Vallance presented tracks the deaths that have occurred globally across some of the countries currently fighting coronavirus. He said that the UK was closest to France in its current trajectory: 'We're tracking roughly along the same path as France. I've said before, we're behind Italy in terms of the curve. You can see that Spain has a higher number than Italy at the moment in terms of its trajectory, not in terms of the total number, but the direction in which it's going. The UK is tracking alongside France in this. The measures we're taking will stop the transmission, delay the transmission, reduce the number of cases. They reduce the number of people becoming infected in the community. Reduce the number of people, therefore, that need to go on to ventilators and therefore reduce the number of people also that might die or will die from this infection.'