The spread of coronavirus in the UK is showing some early signs of slowing, according to Prof Neil Ferguson, a key epidemiologist advising the government.
Ferguson, whose modelling informed the government’s decision to impose a lockdown, said the data was showing some signs that social distancing measures were beginning to work, although it has not yet had an effect on the daily reported deaths.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the UK, we can see some early signs of slowing in some indicators. Less so in deaths because deaths are lagged by long time from when the measures come into force.
“But we look at the numbers of new hospital admissions today for instance that does seem to be slowing down a little bit now. It’s not yet plateaued as the numbers are increasing each day but the rate of that increase has slowed.
“We see similar patterns in a number of European countries.”
Ferguson also said that “maybe a third, maybe 40%” of people do not get any symptoms but there was no evidence to back up some claims that the vast majority of people are asymptomatic.
He said it appeared that around 3-5% of people in central London could have been infected, but the figure may be higher in hotspots, while the figure for the country at large is more likely to be 2-3%.
Ferguson said the next crucial step was the antibody test which can tell whether people have already had the virus and is in the “final stages of validation”, with hopes that it could be operational within days.
Ferguson’s assessment provides some hope that the lockdown could work, but he acknowledged testing would need to be ramped up.
Helen Whately, a health minister, told the same programme that the government was hugely increasing testing, including of NHS staff.
However, she acknowledged that still only 7,000 people were tested on Sunday, despite Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, and health secretary, Matt Hancock, claiming that the level is now at 10,000 tests a day. Whately said that was the new “capacity” but it had not been reached yet.
The government announced in early March that it would be testing 10,000 people a day, before increasing that target to 25,000 people. However it has taken weeks to get the tests and laboratories ready for 10,000 tests, meaning many NHS workers are just starting to get tested.
Whately also declined to speculate on when the UK’s lockdown may end, after Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said on Sunday that restrictions could last three to six months.