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Too early to discuss exit strategy from lockdown, says chief medical officer

PUBLISHED: 19:04 06 April 2020 | UPDATED: 21:23 06 April 2020

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus. Picture: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street/PA Wire

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus. Picture: Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street/PA Wire

It is a “mistake” to discuss the UK’s exit strategy from coronavirus lockdown because the number of cases has not yet reached its peak, England’s chief medical officer has said.

Professor Chris Whitty, speaking at the daily Downing Street press briefing, said it was not yet known when the UK would reach the peak of the epidemic following reports it would be this weekend.

He said: “The key thing is to get to the point where we are confident we have reached the peak and this is now beyond the peak, and at that point I think it is possible to have a serious discussion about all the things we need to do step-by-step to move to the next phase of managing this.

“But I think to start having that discussion until we’re confident that that’s where we’ve got to, would I think be a mistake.”

He told reporters that “of course” there was planning for the next phase of managing Covid-19 but stressed there were a “very large number of elements that need to be brought together”.

These include testing, such as antibody tests which have not yet been proven to work, as well as the future availability of vaccines and drugs to lessen the severity of the illness.

Prof Whitty further said there was a need to balance other elements, including the different types of mortality and ill health associated with coronavirus.

These include people dying directly from the virus itself, dying indirectly if the NHS became overwhelmed with cases, the effects of postponing other types of healthcare because of coronavirus, and the long-term health impact on people due to social and economic reasons.

Professor Dame Angela McLean, the Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser, said decisions could only be made once data had been collected.

She added: “We need a good, long time series of data on all of these stages of infection in order to be able to tell what the impact of the measures that came on March 23 are going to be.

It’s too early to tell yet, we need people to carry on following those instructions so that we can work out three weeks later what actually happens in hospitals.

“We need to know how well the current restrictions are working before we can say anything sensible about what the next stage might be.”


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