The UK-wide lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus is starting to show “green shoots” of working, despite a dramatic surge in deaths on Tuesday.
NHS clinical director Stephen Powis said the social distancing measures implemented over the last week were starting to “flatten the curve” of infection, but warned the nation that “we must not slack off” and get complacent.
The comments came as it was announced another 393 people in the UK had died after contracting the virus over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,789.
The jump is by far the biggest day-on-day rise in the number of deaths since the outbreak began.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, appearing at the daily Downing Street press briefing, said the sharp rise in deaths was “deeply shocking”, but offered cautious optimism.
He said: “There are some signs as a result of people observing social distancing that we may be able to flatten the spread of infection.
“But, it’s absolutely not the time for people to imagine that there can be any relaxation, or slackening.
“This is a hopeful sign, but we must be wary of over interpreting any individual days and data, we must ensure that we maintain this united national effort in order to keep people safe.
“People’s sacrifices are worth it, they are making a difference, but we must not let up.”
Dr Powis, appearing alongside Mr Gove, added: “I’m pleased to that the Great British public are paying attention and we see in many ways that social contact is reducing it.
“The number of people using transport services has reduced dramatically over the last few weeks, which demonstrates that people are paying attention, and understand the message we are giving.”
He added: “We have had a rise in the number of UK deaths, but recently, there is a little bit of a plateau in cases, now I think it’s really important not to read too much into this, because it’s early days, we’re not out of the woods, we’re very much in the woods, and it’s really important that we keep complying with those instructions.
“So green shoots, but only green shoots, and we must not be complacent and we must not take our foot off the pedal.”
Mr Gove later revealed that the UK was making thousands of new ventilators – which would be delivered to the NHS in England by next week.
“The first of thousands of new ventilators will roll off the production and sent to the NHS next week,” he said.
He also revealed that rapid clinical trials are taking place using anti-malarial drugs to try and see whether it will have an effect on those who are ill with Covid-19.
The Cabinet Office minister said the country had to go “further, faster” to increase the ability to carry out coronavirus tests to deal with the crisis.
The comments comes as independent statistics revealed that the true death toll is higher than hospital statistics suggest.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for England and Wales shows there were 24% more deaths relating to Covid-19 up to and including March 20, compared to hospital-only data for the same period.
The ONS looked at all deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned as a factor, including hospital deaths and those in the community and care homes.
A total of 210 deaths in England and Wales for the time period had Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate, compared with 170 coronavirus-related deaths reported by NHS England and Public Health Wales.
Asked if there could be a similar underestimate of the death rate in Scotland, which currently stands at 60, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government statistics were “accurate and robust”.
The chief medical officer for Scotland, Catherine Calderwood, confirmed that “if there is an underestimate this is not significant, because we do not have significant transmission in the community where people are becoming very unwell and not going to hospital.”
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