When will it be time to relax lockdown measures?

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school has answered questions about coronavirus. Photo

Prof Paul Hunter of the UEA's Norwich medical school has answered questions about coronavirus. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2013

Relaxing lockdown measures now would undo the work of the past three weeks, a leading scientist at the University of East Anglia has warned.

This week, the government is set to reassess its lockdown measures and reveal the nation’s next step in its response to the Covid-19 outbreak, with the expectation being that the period will be extended beyond the end of the week.

And while it remains unclear just how long it would be extended by, Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, has said for the time being he would be cautious about any potential relaxation in the coming weeks.

He said: “It is still early days but in my opinion we just can not relax the lockdown at the moment as all that we have achieved thus far would every quickly be undone.

“I expect it will more likely be around the end of May or the beginning of June that we can seriously think of relaxing measures and even then it would need the be a phased approach.”

Norwich on COVID19 Lock Down Easter 2020. St Peter Mancroft Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Norwich on COVID19 Lock Down Easter 2020. St Peter Mancroft Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN - Credit: Archant

Prof Hunter said continuing to place restrictions on social activity and travel was “probably the only thing” that can be done to reduce the spread and manage death rates connected to the coronavirus.

He added: “Maybe later down the line the option will be there to relax things, perhaps by allowing people to visit their loved ones but keeping restrictions on mass gatherings such as rock concerts.

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“I do believe there are some signs it is starting to level off - but I am naturally cautious. However, we are still seeing lots of new cases each day and if we relax things too much too soon we will see a lot more.

“In Wuhan they did not lockdown things until there were next to no cases and we are certainly some way off that point.”

North Norfolk coast on lockdown on Easter Sunday. This is Mundesley. Pictures: David Bale

North Norfolk coast on lockdown on Easter Sunday. This is Mundesley. Pictures: David Bale - Credit: Archant

Later this week, government is expected to carry out a review of the measures, with ministers saying they want to make sure the country is past the outbreak’s peak before easing any restrictions.

Scientific advisers will meet today ahead of the formal review of the strict social distancing measures on Thursday, the deadline which is set out in law.

As of 9am on Monday, 11,329 people who tested positive for the illness had died in hospital nationwide, according to latest figures from the Department of Health.

The pending review has sparked debate on social media, with people generally in favour of a longer lockdown - if it is what it takes to quell the spread of the virus.

Sue Bignell said: “We have not reached the peak of infections yet. It is hard but it is necessary to keep the lockdown in place. There are new cases every day so it’s in everyone’s best interests to stay at home and stick with it until it is safe for the lockdown to be lifted.”

James Morgan added: “As much as we all hate it, it is the only solution. To change anything at this crucial time would only cause an increase in the number of cases and the number of deaths that would occur.”

Kathy Brotherhood said: “I am finding it difficult, but there is no way I want it lifting until it is totally safe.”

Colleen Wells said: “I can’t wait for kids to be back at school and hubby back at work but only when it is safe so if the government puts us in lockdown for longer then I’m all for it.”

There were also several calls for tougher fines for people found to be flouting the restrictions. Others also called for lockdown measures to be stricter, similar to those in Italy and Spain, both of which experienced the outbreak ahead of the United Kingdom.

Paul Deans Betts, however, said: “Stop the lockdown. Those that are high risk continue to self isolate.”