The UK has declared 439 more deaths caused by the coronavirus today, taking the total to 5,373, and 3,802 new positive tests have pushed the number of patients up to 51,608.
In a glimmer of hope after a dark week for Britain, the number of people dying of COVID-19 has now fallen for two days in a row and today dropped 30 per cent from 621 yesterday.
Today’s death count is the lowest since March 31, last Tuesday, when it was 381, and marks a 39 per cent fall from the UK’s worst day so far, Saturday, when the deaths of 708 people were recorded.
The number of new cases is also lower than it was for almost all of last week, with the 3,802 new positive tests 2,101 fewer than 5,903 yesterday and only the second time since March that the number has been below 4,000.
England accounted for 403 of the fatalities while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland declared 36 more deaths between them over the past day.
The figures come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in hospital with ‘persistent’ symptoms after he was admitted last night because his fever had lasted for 10 days after he was diagnosed. He spent the night in hospital but aides say he is still trying to work and he said in a tweet he is ‘in good spirits’.
However, his deputy Dominic Raab, who chaired the daily coronavirus crisis committee meeting this morning in the absence of the premier, dodged giving any timetable for him being back in action this evening.
‘He is in charge,’ the Foreign Secretary told the daily press briefing. ‘The PM will take the medical advice he gets from his doctor.’ Mr Raab said he had not spoken to Mr Johnson personally since Saturday.
Earlier, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, said authorities will start to consider easing the UK’s lockdown in the coming weeks if the numbers of people being admitted to hospital remains stable. There are fears a long quarantine will cause permanent damage to the economy and the NHS appears to be coping well so far.
However, for normality to return experts say antibody tests – which reveal who has already recovered from COVID-19 – will be necessary. But leading scientists have warned the UK is at least a month away from having any that work, adding that all the kits that have been checked already have ‘not performed well’ and are not worth using.
More optimistic statistics come as countries around Europe, including Italy, Spain and Germany, appear to be seeing death rates fall – Germany’s outbreak appears to have hit is peak already with just 1,600 deaths.
In other coronavirus developments today:
- Humiliated Nicola Sturgeon has admitted the effort to combat coronavirus has been damaged after she was forced to accept the resignation of Scotland’s chief medical officer for flouting her own lockdown rules;
- Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is out of self-isolation and has been working after recovering from coronavirus;
- Worrying figures showed the UK’s coronavirus epidemic was set to overtake that suffered by France and Italy;
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock threatened to revoke the right to exercise outdoors if people continued to flout social distancing measures;
- The Prime Minister’s spokesperson confirmed that sunbathing in public is not allowed and flouts rules allowing only essential movement;
- Top scientists said it would take at least a month for the UK to develop antibody tests that could be rolled out widely to check who has had the virus already;
- A report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre has found that ethnic minority people are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus;
- A 54-year-old from Essex became the first midwife to die with coronavirus in England.
NHS England revealed 403 more deaths have been recorded in its hospitals, among people aged between 35 and 106. All but 15 of them had other health problems.
Scotland, which was the first to declare new cases today, noted 255 new positive tests and just four new deaths, taking its totals to 222 and 3,961.
Wales declared a further 302 cases and 27 more deaths, meaning it has now had 3,499 positive tests and 193 people have died.
The majority of the deaths happened in London again, with a total of 129, followed by 75 in the Midlands, 67 in the North East and Yorkshire, 44 in the East of England, 43 in the North West, 27 in the South West and 18 in the South East.
Falling figures may be a reason to be cheerful, but experts have warned against pinning too much significance to day-by-day numbers.
Statistics recorded on Sundays and published on Mondays have, since the outbreak in the UK began, been routinely followed by an upward surge on Tuesday. Last Monday’s figure was 13 per cent lower than Sunday’s.
UK WILL WAIT ‘AT LEAST A MONTH’ FOR ANTIBODY TESTS
Britain’s hopes of going back to normal today suffered another blow after a top scientist checking coronavirus antibody tests for the Government said none of the ones he’s seen so far are any good.
Professor Sir John Bell, from Oxford University, said the testing kits he has examined so far ‘have not performed well’ and ‘none of them would meet the criteria for a good test’.
Dashing hopes of lockdown ending any time soon, Sir John said it would take ‘at least a month’ before antibody tests, which tell whether someone has already recovered from COVID-19, would be available for the public.
Professor Sir John Bell, from the University of Oxford, said officials are struggling to find a good quality antibody test
He said: ‘We see many false negatives… and we also see false positives. This is not a good result or test suppliers or for us.’
A Public Health England director has also said that the agency has not yet seen a test good enough to be used by the public. Professor John Newton said they are not proven accurate enough on people who had only had mild illnesses.
The tests are considered to be crucial to ending Britain’s nationwide lockdown because they will give authorities a clear picture of how many people have caught the virus already and shaken it off.
Public Health England has refused to reveal what the Government considers an acceptable level of accuracy.
The US last week launched its first antibody test after a firm in North Carolina got approval from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). It is claimed to be 93.8 per cent accurate.
In a blog post published on the University of Oxford’s website yesterday, Sir John, a royally-appointed medicine professor at the university, said the UK was not the only country struggling to find reliable tests.
He wrote: ‘The Spanish apparently returned test kits that were not working, and the Germans who are developing their own sensitive kits believe they are three months away from getting these available and validated.’
Explaining the difficulties, he added: ‘To validate these tests you need a gold standard test so you know the correct answer and you need [blood] from patients who have recovered from the virus infection they had approximately 28 days before.
‘You also need blood from people who donated before the epidemic so you know whether you falsely see positive tests when there is no Covid-19 in the sample.
‘For example, there are a number of other coronaviruses circulating that might stimulate antibodies that cross react to Covid-19 proteins.’
Today’s update comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in hospital after being admitted in central London last night because he has had a fever for so long.
The PM’s spokesman said he is still ‘under observation’ and refused to say whether he has been diagnosed with pneumonia.
But he insisted Mr Johnson is in ‘good spirits’ and still in contact with aides.
The 55-year-old was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital, which is near Downing Street, last night after doctors raised alarm that his temperature still not subsided 10 days after his positive test.
There are warnings from ministers that he has ‘risked his health’ by keeping up a frantic work rate, while one senior Tory said he must learn he is ‘not indispensable’ and has to rest.
One MP suggested that he was too keen to emulate his hero, Winston Churchill by defying illness.
No 10 has insisted it was not an emergency admission and the premier remains in control of the government’s response, despite staying in hospital with no clear time-frame for being discharged.
However, his effective deputy Dominic Raab chaired the daily coronavirus crisis committee meeting this morning, and full Cabinet tomorrow has been postponed.
Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘Last night, on the advice of my doctor, I went into hospital for some routine tests as I’m still experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
‘I’m in good spirits and keeping in touch with my team, as we work together to fight this virus and keep everyone safe.
‘I’d like to say thank you to all the brilliant NHS staff taking care of me and others in this difficult time. You are the best of Britain.
‘Stay safe everyone, and please remember to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.’
Experts say there is a risk of pneumonia when a temperature lasts more than a week. There have been claims Mr Johnson has been coughing heavily during conference calls.
The PM’s spokesman declined to say whether he had pneumonia, although they dismissed claims emanating from Russia that he is on a ventilator as ‘disinformation’.
Asked if symptoms are ‘mild’ – the word previously used to describe them – the spokesman instead said they were ‘persistent’ and included a ‘a temperature and a cough’.
‘The Prime Minister was admitted to hospital for tests last night, his symptoms have remained persistent,’ the spokesman said.
‘He had a comfortable night in St Thomas’s Hospital in London and is in good spirits. He remains in hospital under observation.’
It emerged at the weekend that Mr Johnson’s pregnant partner Carrie Symonds has also been suffering coronavirus, although she is now ‘on the mend’.
The government’s chief medical adviser Chris Whitty has also recovered in a glimmer of good news.
Hopes are rising across Europe now that governments’ drastic lockdown measures are working.
Italy yesterday recorded its lowest one-day death toll in two weeks – since March 20 – with 525 fatalities announced.
Spain today revealed its fewest deaths in a day since March 24 (637) and Germany announced its lowest number in a week (92).
The tumbling figures – if they carry on – show that strict government policies telling people to remain at home unless necessary are stopping the virus from spreading.
And some countries in Europe have already started to draw up plans for their exits from lockdown, with Austria setting targets to start reopening businesses after the Easter weekend.
Austria today became the first country to set out detailed plans for ending the standstill, with smaller shops re-opening on April 14 and larger ones on May 1.
Countries across Europe, including the UK, Italy and Spain, have seen the numbers of people dying from coronavirus fall in recent days, offering hope that their outbreaks may be slowing down
UK LOCKDOWN COULD START BEING EASED TO EASE OFF ‘WITHIN WEEKS’
The UK’s coronavirus lockdown could start being eased ‘within weeks’, a Cabinet minister said today – as the Treasury pushes for the crippling economic shutdown to end by June.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick suggested the current lockdown measures could be gradually eased after Easter – but stressed a full exit strategy will require much more testing.
There were claims today that government officials have started drawing up a list of options for removing some restrictions if hospital admissions stay stable.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick suggested the current lockdown measures could be gradually eased after Easter
Senior Tories suggested that there should be a ‘staged opening’ of schools, shops and restaurants if the risks recede, to avoid dealing more punishment to firms and workers who have already been left on the brink.
In a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Jenrick said there was currently ‘excess capacity’ in intensive care units ‘across the country’, which had to be maintained to ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed.
‘If we can do that then we can look in the weeks to come to begin to very carefully… lift some of those measures,’ he said.
‘But an exit strategy that’s sustainable will also have to be accompanied by much greater testing and tracing than we are able to do today.’
The Times said Treasury officials have warned that if the lockdown lasts beyond June there will be permanent damage to the economy.
Civil servants in the health and business departments were reportedly asked last week to draw up options for a phased easing.
Denmark also plans to start lifting restrictions after Easter, but wants people to ‘work in a more staggered way’ to avoid crowding into trains and buses.
Meanwhile Germany is willing to re-open schools on a regional basis and allow a limited number of people into restaurants if the infection rate stays sufficiently low. There have been more than 100,000 cases diagnosed in Germany.
In Italy, which has been under lockdown longer than any other European country, officials are talking about a ‘phase two’ where society learns to ‘live with the virus’ by wearing masks and carrying out more tests.
Italy and Germany are among the countries looking at smartphone tracking, which could allow them to jump on new outbreaks without sending everyone back inside.
All of those countries, along with Spain, have seen signs of improvement in their recent figures which offer hope that the crisis is past its peak. That moment is still to come for Britain and America, which are bracing for one of their bleakest weeks.
However, health officials across Europe warn that life cannot go back ‘from 0 to 100’ immediately and many lockdown measures will remain in place for several more weeks at least.
Italy is openly talking about a ‘phase two’ in which society will have to ‘create the conditions to live with the virus’ until a vaccine is developed.
Health minister Roberto Speranza says more testing and a beefed-up local health system would be necessary to allow an easing of the lockdown.
He said social distancing would have to remain in place, with more widespread use of personal protective equipment such as face masks.
Testing and ‘contact tracing’ would be extended, including with the use of smartphone apps, in order to contain new outbreaks.
A network of hospitals would also be set up which are specifically dedicated to virus patients, after doctors on existing wards described having to make life-or-death decisions over access to intensive care.
‘There are difficult months ahead. Our task is to create the conditions to live with the virus,’ at least until a vaccine is developed, the health minister told La Repubblica newspaper.
The national lockdown, strictly limiting people’s movements and freezing all non-essential economic activity, will officially last until at least April 13 but it is widely expected to be extended.
Military personnel are pictured swabbing a medical worker at a drive-through coronavirus testing centre set up in Edgbaston, Birmingham for NHS staff. Health service employees are the only people being routinely tested without being admitted to hospital