LONDON: The United Kingdom has not yet reached the COVID-19 peak which would allow for an easing of tight restrictions of movement, health minister Matt Hancock said on Saturday.
The death toll in British hospitals has reached almost 9,000, with 980 more deaths reported on Friday, a figure which exceeded the deadliest day so far in Italy, the country worst hit by the virus.
Britain imposed a lockdown three weeks ago in a bid to curb the spread of the virus and the government has come under increasing pressure to explain how long the strict measures on movements would last, with people forced to stay at home and many businesses unable to operate.
Ministers have said Britain needed to pass the peak of the outbreak before changes could be made, and Hancock said although the number of hospital admissions had started to flatten out, there was not enough evidence yet to have confidence they were past the worst. “Our judgement is we’re not there yet. We haven’t seen a flattening enough to be able to say that we’ve reached the peak,” he told BBC radio.
Some scientists have suggested the peak might still be some weeks off but Hancock remains unsure and said “nobody knows” when it would be. “There’s all sorts of suggestions. Their job is to make their best estimate and advise us and we have a whole load of different pieces of advice from different scientists,” he said.
Health officials have cautioned the death rate is also expected to increase over the next few days but they are hopeful that the lockdown will mean that the overall number of deaths will be below 20,000.
Johnson took a more modest response to the outbreak than other European leaders but changed tack when projections suggested a quarter of a million people could die in the United Kingdom. Among those to have died after testing positive for COVID-19 are 19 health care workers including 11 doctors.
The government has come under fire for its initial response and a lack of preparedness, and there was criticism on Saturday from doctors and nurses who said they were having to treat patients without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves.
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said medics were facing a “heart-breaking” decision over whether to treat patients without proper protection and so put themselves at risk.
Hancock said 761 million PPE items had been delivered to the 1.4 million staff who worked for the National Health Service but there were issues in ensuring in reached the frontline. “There’s clearly more to do to make sure every single person who needs it gets the PPE that they need,” he said.