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‘Lockdown could last into June’ - Coronavirus expert answers our key questions

PUBLISHED: 11:39 01 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:50 02 April 2020

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

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

Archant © 2013

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, has shared his expertise on coronavirus and answered key questions about the pandemic.

Q: It has been suggested the UK’s social distancing may be working already and the number of Covid-19 cases is now falling. What do you think?

A: “One of the first things I learnt about epidemics is that you don’t make statements like that on a Monday because on the weekend all sorts of things can conspire to make it more difficult. For example, people typically take the weekend off work. You see in every single infectious disease that there is a dip of reports on a weekend.

“But we’re not yet in my view seeing a decline and any talk of a decline at the beginning of the week is significantly misjudged.”

Q: When will we see a decline in cases?

A dummy COVID-19 swab is handled inside a sealed sterile tube during a demonstration by lab technicians who are carrying out diagnostic tests for coronavirus. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA WireA dummy COVID-19 swab is handled inside a sealed sterile tube during a demonstration by lab technicians who are carrying out diagnostic tests for coronavirus. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

A: “It is quite plausible we will see a more acceptable decline in new cases by Friday. This is not based on death rates, which follow behind one to two weeks, but case numbers.

“This would also fit to the timescale and experience seen in Italy. I hope that we see a reduction in new cases by the end of the week and if we don’t something is going quite wrong.”

Q: How long do you think this form of lockdown will last?

A: “The simple answer is I don’t know. But in my personal view, based on years of experience, I think this degree of containment will last until end of May and early into June.

“While it has not been proven yet that the seasons affect the virus, I think it is quite likely it doesn’t spread as much as the summer as it does in the winter, like influenza.“

Q: If cases start dropping significantly, could there still be a resurgence this year and what treatment might be available?

A: “It may well come back at the end of the year around November and December. However, it won’t be as bad due to herd immunity and hopefully – and this is a big if – drugs will be developed by then which will reduce the chance of death. Hopefully, there will also be a decent vaccine early next year for those at risk and vulnerable people.”

Q: Why has Covid-19 had such an impact and spread so quickly compared to other outbreaks?

The first new ventilator devices will roll off the production line this weekend and be delivered to the NHS next week, Michael Gove has announced. Picture: Smiths Medical/PA WireThe first new ventilator devices will roll off the production line this weekend and be delivered to the NHS next week, Michael Gove has announced. Picture: Smiths Medical/PA Wire

A: “With SARS, for example, you became most infectious seven to 10 days into the illness, by which point everyone was ill enough to be in hospital so it can be controlled. With Covid-19, on the other hand, you are most infectious in the first couple of days. There is also no evidence that SARS could be transmitted by mild symptoms or those who were asymptomatic – unlike Covid-19.”

Q: Do you become immune to Covid-19 once you’ve had it?

A: “If you have the infection it is likely you will be immune in the short term but I don’t know how long it lasts – perhaps a year or so. However, if you do experience it again the severity will be a lot less as your immune system will know how to respond.”

Q: Will Covid-19 ever be totally eradicated?

An NHS catch it, bin it, kill it sign. Pic:  Philip Toscano/PA WireAn NHS catch it, bin it, kill it sign. Pic: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

A: “I don’t know for certain but given the infectivity, in my personal view, I think it will carry on for many years to come. But it will never again cause the level of epidemic it has this year.”

Q: Why have healthy young people died?

A: “People dying young with no health conditions is extremely rare. The probability of death starts increasing at the age of 40 – age is a big factor. Women are also much less likely to die or develop a serious disease than men as they have much more robust immune systems. They typically smoke less than men, which is another important risk factor.”

Q: What do you think of the government’s response to the pandemic?

A: “In the early stages – the containment phase – they did remarkably well by tracing people who had been in contact with positive Covid-19 cases, testing and then isolating. But then it went a bit shaky a few weeks ago as there was a sort of delaying phase during which nobody knew what was happening. Potentially we have lost about two week in terms of how it was managed.

“I think it is fair to level serious criticism about how the outbreak has been managed the last three or four weeks.”


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