What we learned from the latest Downing Street coronavirus briefing

Here’s what we learned about the coronavirus pandemic from today’s Government press conference.

By Sophie Brownson
Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 7:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 8:17 pm

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was joined by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff.

Relaxing social distancing too soon risks second coronavirus spike

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said the social distancing measures are having an effect but said “we are not out of the woods yet”.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street 10 Downing Street.

He warned that a "second spike" in coronavirus would trigger a second lockdown that would "prolong the economic pain we are all going through".

Mr Raab, who is deputising for the Prime Minister, told the daily press conference: "We are making progress through the peak of this virus but we're not out of the woods yet, as Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) advised last week.

"That's why the measures we introduced must remain in place for the time being.

"The greatest risk for us now, if we eased up on our social distancing rules too soon, is that we would risk a second spike in the virus with all the threats to life that would bring and then the risk of a second lockdown which would prolong the economic pain we are all going through."

He said that testing will "play a really important role in the next phase of the crisis."

Social distancing will remain in place until a vaccine is found

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said disruptive social measures would have to remain in place until a vaccine or effective drugs to treat coronavirus can be found, which he warned was unlikely to happen this year.

He said: "In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally.

"A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed... or, and or, highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.

"Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that.

"We're going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment.

"But until that point, that is what we will have to do but it will be the best combination that maximises the outlooks but it's going to take a long time and I think we need to be aware of that."

There is hope an antibody test will be available in “near future”

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said there is still not an antibody test available that Public Health England has enough confidence in to provide an idea of how many people in the UK have had coronavirus.

"The problem we have had is we do not yet have a test that is as good as we would want," he said.

"Many different people are trying to work on an improved test - there are fairly good tests on this at the moment but there are not very good tests."

He said he was "hoping" that test would be available in the "pretty near future".

More coronavirus testing will take place

The public could expect to see more testing of the population to determine whether a second peak was occurring, England’s chief medical officer has said.

“An area we will be doing a lot more of, testing across the community to find out, at the earliest possible stage, if we're starting to see a resurgence of this virus," he said.

"At the moment, we are relying on a situation where people get as far as hospital.

"If they do that, they will have had five days in which they don't have any symptoms, they might have had up to a week where things were getting worse and so you are behind the curve if you rely on that.

"We are going to certainly be doing a lot more population testing and we will go into details on that very shortly."

Military is supporting the NHS

The military is supporting the NHS and the Department for Health and Social Care, Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter, has confirmed.

He said in 25 days the NHS had gone from 240 customers they deliver normally to nearly 50,000 customers, which involved creating 260,000 sq ft of distribution warehousing.

Gen Carter also said: "Our role has been entirely in support of the heroic healthcare workers on the frontline - that's both the NHS and social care - with humility very much being our watchword in the way that we give that support."

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