Katy Balls

The unknown factor that will help decide when the lockdown ends

The unknown factor that will help decide when the lockdown ends
Picture by Pippa Fowles / No 10. Downing Street
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Dominic Raab used the daily coronavirus press conference to confirm that the nationwide lockdown is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon. The First Secretary of State said that 'the measures will have to stay in place until we clearly have the evidence that we have moved beyond the peak'. 

As for when we should start to see the number of fatalities fall, the chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance said that this could be around two weeks after the peak of Intensive Care Unit admissions. Given that no one thinks we have yet reached that point, there is some way to go.

As for what happens after, the most sobering point of the conference came from Vallance when he was asked about the overall rate of infection. Currently, there are competing views within government about when and how the lockdown should be lifted.

However, one piece of information that will be crucial to making that decision is the percentage of the population already infected – including the percentage infected who show no symptoms. An Oxford University study last month suggested that half of the population may have already been infected – were that to be the case, planning a return to normal life could be a simpler task. 

When asked in the Q&A whether he had an estimate for the number of people in the UK already infected with the coronavirus, Vallance said the signs from across the world are that it looks 'less likely' that it's a very high number when it comes to asymptomatic cases – as well as overall infections:

So it's not likely that 90 per cent of people have had it asymptomatically – much more likely that it's lower than 50 per cent, it could be around 30 per cent but we don't know for sure.

But in terms of the number of people who've had in every country, that's why the antibody test is so important. But there are beginning to be some stories of people getting answers to that question. Again, I wouldn't expect that to be a high percentage – most of the figures that come out so far are low single digit percentages but we need to see.

If only a small percentage of the population has been infected with coronavirus, social distancing could well be with us for longer than many hoped.