Boris Johnson says UK is now 'past the peak' of coronavirus outbreak

30 April 2020, 17:12

By Megan White

The UK is “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak, Boris Johnson has said.

At his return to the daily government press briefing, the Prime Minister said the country is now “on the downward slope” of the outbreak.

He said next week, he will set out a plan to “get the economy moving, get our children back to school, and how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safe.”

He also announced that the number of deaths across all settings in the UK is now 26,711, an increase of 674 since yesterday.

Mr Johnson said: "At no stage has our NHS been overwhelmed, no patient went without a ventilator, no patient was deprived of intensive care, we have five of the seven projected Nightingale wards.

"It is thanks to that massive collective effort to shield the NHS that we avoided an uncontrollable and catastrophic epidemic where the reasonable worst-case scenario was 500,000 deaths.

"I can confirm today that for the first time we are past the peak of this disease. We are past the peak and on the downward slope."

The PM added: "We have come through the peak. Or rather we have come under what could have been a vast peak.

"As though we have been going through some huge Alpine tunnel and we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us."

But the PM warned we must be sure that any relaxing of the lockdown measures does not cause a second peak in the virus.

He said next week a "road map" of options will be laid out, with dates determined by "where we are" in the epidemic.

He added: "Until this day comes (when an inoculation is ready), and we cannot say exactly when this will be, we are going to have to beat this disease by our growing resolve and ingenuity.

"I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, our children back to school and into childcare, and thirdly how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safer.

"In short, how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.

"What you are going to get next week is really a road map, a menu of options - the dates and times of each individual measure will be very much driven by where we are in the epidemic, what the data is really saying and we are getting in a lot more data every day now and in the course of the next few days."

Referring to conditions needed for easing lockdown restrictions, Mr Johnson said: "We must be sure that we can continue to protect the NHS and its ability to cope.

"We must see a sustained fall in deaths. We must all make sure that the measures we take do not risk a second spike that would overwhelm the NHS."

England's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the number of people being hospitalised across every region in England still needs to be driven down.

But he added: "The number of new cases is down, that's turning into fewer admissions, fewer people in hospital, fewer people in intensive care and we're beginning to see that decrease in deaths."

The PM said he "mourned for every life lost" and also the "economic damage the country is sustaining".

But he predicted a "bad" second coronavirus peak would do "lasting" damage to the UK economy if lockdown measures were lifted too quickly.

The number of deaths is gradually falling
The number of deaths is gradually falling. Picture: Cabinet Office

"It is absolutely vital, if we're to bounce back as strongly as I think we can, that we don't have a second bout or second bad spike," he said.

"Because that would really do the lasting economic damage.

"That's why we have to calibrate our measures so carefully and make sure we not only unlock the economy gradually, but also find ways of continuing to suppress the disease, and possibly find new, more ingenious ways of suppressing the disease.

"That's what we are working on now and you'll be seeing a lot more of that, I hope, next week."

A total of 901,905 tests have been carried out, 81,611 of those which took place yesterday.

171,253 people have tested positive, up 6,032 since yesterday, and 15,043 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus, down from 15,359 yesterday.

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty said the rate of infection needed to remain below one before the lockdown could be safely lifted.

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He said: "There isn't a perfect answer to what should the R be (to lift the lockdown) but we're absolutely confident that the wrong answer is anything over one.

"Because as soon as R goes over one, then you restart exponential growth - it may be slow if it is just over one, it may be a lot faster if it goes a lot above one - but exponential growth restarts and, sooner or later - and the higher it is, the sooner it is - the NHS will go back to the risk of being overwhelmed and the number of cases will go up."

He said "indirect deaths" could go up if the NHS is under strain from Covid-19 and cannot treat people with other ailments and diseases, and said the health service needed "headroom" to continue to carry out urgent cancer care and surgery.

He also acknowledged concerns about deaths from other causes increasing because of the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's not just cancers, we are very concerned that there has been a fall away in people coming to accident and emergency... with things like strokes and heart attacks.

"They must be going on, and one of the worries we have is people are thinking 'I can't go to the NHS because it can't deal with these emergencies' - it definitely can."

The Prime Minister acknowledged the hit taken by the tourism industry due to the lockdown.

"I sympathise very much with everybody in the tourism industry who has taken such a hit and it's been one of our jobs to make sure that we look after business as far as we possibly can through our loans, our support schemes, our furloughing schemes for workers," he said.

"We are going to make sure that the UK bounces back as fast as we possibly can but we have got to be sensible, I think the public have been very sensible so far."

He also acknowledged the "frustrations" in expanding the number of coronavirus tests and the difficulties getting sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE).

"We're determined urgently and in particular to overcome those challenges that have in the last few weeks been so knotty and so infuriating," the PM said.

"I'm not going to minimise the logistical problems we face in getting the right protective gear to the right people at the right time, both in the NHS and in care homes.

"Or the frustrations that we've experienced in expanding the numbers of tests.

"But what I can tell you is that everyone responsible for tackling these problems, whether in Government or the NHS or Public Health England or in local authorities, we're throwing everything at it, heart and soul, night and day, to get it right - and we will get it right and we're making huge progress.

"And I will not underrate the work and achievement of those who are dealing with global shortages in a global pandemic - they are rising to a challenge we've never seen in our lifetimes."