Coronavirus: Social distancing working but UK 'must not take our foot off the pedal'

31 March 2020, 18:00

Medical director of NHS England Professor Stephen Powis
Medical director of NHS England Professor Stephen Powis. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Social distancing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus have been working but we “must not take our foot off the pedal,” the medical director of NHS England said.

Speaking alongside Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, Professor Stephen Powis said there is evidence the public was heeding the message on the need to maintain social distancing.

He said there was a "bit of a plateau" in the number of new cases of people testing positive for Covid-19.


The press conference came as the UK saw its death toll rise to 1,801 – almost 400 up on Monday.

25,150 people have now tested positive for the virus across the country, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Gove admits coronavirus testing 'must go faster'

Prof Powis told the No 10 press conference: "It is really important not to read too much because it is really early days. We are not out of the woods, we are very much in the woods.

"So green shoots but only green shoots and we must not be complacent and we must not take our foot off the pedal."

Read more: Boris Johnson: 'The situation is going to get worse before it gets better'

Professor Powis said that the rate of hospitalisation of cases for Covid-19 was still increasing, as was expected at this stage of the epidemic.

However, he said that if the number of infections started to drop, then in the next few weeks the "hope" was that the number of hospitalisations would also begin to fall.

Read more: British Airways suspends all flights to and from Gatwick amid coronavirus pandemic

"The good news here is that that line is not going up very steeply but we are not out of the woods. We need to keep our foot on the pedal," he said.

Mr Gove said despite signs the rate of infection is being flattened, "now is absolutely not the time for people to imagine there can be any relaxation or slackening" of lockdown measures.

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He added that while the rate of coronavirus testing in the UK has increased, the UK must go further and faster.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told the Downing Street press conference: "More NHS staff are returning to the frontline, and more testing is taking place to help those self-isolating come back, and to protect those working so hard in our hospitals and in social care.

"But while the rate of testing is increasing, we must go further, faster."

He said a "critical constraint" on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents, but that Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock were working with companies worldwide to ensure the UK gets the material needed to increase tests "of all kind".

Asked about testing for NHS staff, Mr Gove said: "We are increasing the number of tests.

"One of the constraints on our capacity to increase testing overall is supply of the specific reagents, the specific chemicals, that are needed in order to make sure that tests are reliable."

Mr Gove said the UK was buying ventilators from EU nations.

"We have just over 8,000 ventilators deployed in NHS hospitals now. This number has increased since the epidemic began thanks to the hard work of NHS professionals, but we need more.

"That's why we are buying more ventilators from abroad, including from EU nations.

"It's also why we are developing new sources of supply at home."

The first new ventilator devices will roll off the production line this weekend and be delivered to the NHS next week, Mr Gove said.

He said: "I can announce that this weekend the first of thousands of new ventilator devices will roll off the production line and be delivered to the NHS next week.

"From there, they will be rapidly distributed to the frontline."