On Thursday 30th of April 2020, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced that the UK was past the peak of the coronavirus, stating that ‘“I can confirm today that for the first time, we are past the peak of this disease. We are past the peak, and we are on the downward slope” adding that the government would soon reveal plans to ‘restart’ the UK economy. Lockdown procedures have not yet been eased but the government has promised to lay out a comprehensive plan that will look to reboot the economy, reopen schools, and enable people to safely return to work.
Boris Johnson, in his first public briefing since his own battle with coronavirus, went onto state that the UK needed to ‘satisfy 5 key tests’ before the government would be able to relinquish or ease lockdown procedures. These were: to continue to protect the NHS’ ability to cope with cases, to see a sustained fall in deaths, to be confident that the infection rate is falling, to overcome operational and logistical challenges on testing and PPE and finally, to make sure that any measures taken do not risk a second spike of the virus.
According to the BBC on the 30th of April, a total of ‘26,771 people with coronavirus have died in UK hospitals and the wider community.’ The downward slope of the virus has been judged via many factors such as the consistent reduction of death rates, induction of patients into hospital, and the all-important R rate (or R0 / R naught in the US). The R rate stands for the reproduction number of a virus and determines the ability of a disease to spread. It refers to the average number of persons that an infected person will pass the disease onto. Measles has one of the highest rates, reaching R-15 and the Flu is around R-1 -1.3.
The UK is looking to keep the reproduction rate below 1. If the infection rate is below one and thus will spread to less than one person on average the disease will become manageable and hopefully die out. If the R-rate is above one, the infection rate will grow and potentially become uncontrollable. The R rate for coronavirus has been tracked by scientists globally since its emergence and it is height, (and the estimated natural rate of the virus), it was at an R rate of 3. According to The Guardian ‘The [UK] government currently believes R to be between 0.6 and 0.9 – but wants to drive it down further before lockdown measures can be eased.’ If the infection rate approaches or surpasses one, it is likely that lockdown measures will not be lifted or reinstated again.
Experts also believe that the UK needs to drastically improve testing which will be crucial for the easement of lockdown measures. As of the 30th April, Boris Johnson stated that ‘901,905 tests’ have been carried out in the UK so far, including, over 81,000 in one day (29th April). The UK government has been under fire for its lack of sufficient testing procedures and has slowly been increasing its testing capabilities.
Johnson intimated that the ‘unlocking’ of the UK will be done gradually. Suggesting that procedures such as the enforced use of face coverings may be introduced. According to the BBC: ‘Mr Johnson said face coverings will be “useful” as part of the strategy for coming out of lockdown “both for epidemiological reasons but also giving people the confidence they can go back to work”.’
The UK’s healthcare system, the NHS, is also looking to gear up its departments that have been temporarily suspended to both cope with the pandemic and to limit the spread of the virus. Indirect deaths have and can be caused by these departments not being available to those in need due to lockdown procedures. Although, other hospital departments are crucial, they need to have the capacity to safely restart and safeguard their patients. Chemotherapy and elective surgeries are among those procedures that have been on pause and will be restarting as soon as possible.
Reports of other European countries easing lockdown procedures have also been filtering through in the recent weeks. Spain, was perhaps one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, have now allowed children to go outside for one hour a day to play. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has reopened children’s play areas, zoos, museums, and church services, which will still be under strict social distancing and hygiene rules. Schools, holidays and other leisure events have not yet been opened and larger gatherings remain closed in Germany.