New cases of coronavirus appear to have stabilised but it is not the time to “take our foot off the pedal”, a healthcare chief has said, as ministers pleaded with the public to obey social distancing rules despite the warm weather.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, made the warning as the latest figures showed the recorded death toll from the virus in the UK has risen above 4,000, including a five-year-old child.
The Department of Health said the number of coronavirus-related hospital deaths stood at 4,313 as of 5pm on Friday, up from 3,605 the day before – an increase of 708.
Speaking alongside Michael Gove at the daily Downing Street press conference, Prof Powis said: “The new cases in the UK have continued to rise but in the last few days they have stabilised.”
He said there had been a “bit of a plateauing” of rates of people being taken to hospital in London, but warned: “This is not the time to be complacent and to take our foot off the pedal.
“We need to continue to comply with those instructions because that will translate in the next week or two into a reduction in hospital admissions.”
Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said seven healthcare professionals have now lost their lives during the coronavirus outbreak, as he urged people to stay inside over the weekend to ensure their sacrifice had not been in vain.
“I know that life under lockdown can be challenging, and some will be tempted on this sunny weekend to venture out and about,” he said.
“If we relax our adherence to the rules, we increase the risk for others.”
The Cabinet minister said hundreds of new ventilators were being manufactured in the UK every day and more had been sourced from abroad, including 300 which arrived from China on Saturday.
Mr Gove also said school attendance was down to as low as 2% and announced that the Government would set out plans next week on how it intends to help children eligible for school meals and those in need during the Easter holiday and beyond.
NHS England said the latest victims were aged between five and 104, and 40 had no known underlying health condition, ranging in age from 48 to 93.
There were 212 deaths in the Midlands, more than in London, where there were 127.
The North West had 97 deaths, the North East and Yorkshire 73, the East of England 70, the South East 41 and the South West 17.
The figures came after Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the Government’s scientific advisers, said earlier that while the epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, people’s behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.
The stay-at-home calls came as:
– Boris Johnson’s pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds said she had spent the last week in bed suffering coronavirus symptoms, but was “on the mend”.
– The Ministry of Justice said hundreds of risk-assessed prisoners within two months of their release date are to be temporarily sent home to reduce the risk of coronavirus taking hold in jails and overwhelming the NHS.
– Mr Johnson wrote to opposition party leaders, including newly elected Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, inviting them to a briefing next week and insisting “we have a duty to work together at this moment of national emergency”.
– A member of the armed forces became the first confirmed coronavirus case on the Falkland Islands.
I’ve spent the past week in bed with the main symptoms of Coronavirus. I haven’t needed to be tested and, after seven days of rest, I feel stronger and I’m on the mend.
— Carrie Symonds (@carriesymonds) April 4, 2020
Asked what would happen if people flout the social distancing rules this weekend, Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4: “That moves us to a slightly more pessimistic scenario.
“We still think things will plateau but we’ll be at quite high levels of infection for weeks and weeks rather than seeing quite a rapid decline as the type seen in China.”
He said he was “hopeful” that some of the intense social distancing measures could be substituted with rapid access to testing and contact tracing in a few weeks’ time – once case numbers are lower.
“We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May that we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now,” he explained.