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Ending social distancing ‘risks second wave of Covid-19 deaths in UK’

Kirsty O'Connor

By PA Reporters

The UK risks a second wave of coronavirus deaths if social distancing warnings are not heeded, England’s deputy chief medical officer has warned.

Dr Jenny Harries said the relatively low increase in hospital deaths – up 596 from 15,464 as of 5pm on Saturday – is “positive news”.

But she cautioned against reading too much into the figures, saying they reflected the usual drop in cases confirmed at weekends.

Asked during the daily Downing Street press briefing whether the UK is “past the peak” of coronavirus, Dr Harries said: “We could jump to all sorts of positive conclusions about that but we shouldn’t.

“I do think it is fair to say that we do know from the hospital data that we are starting to plateau across.”

She added: “If we don’t keep doing the social distancing, we will create a second peak and we definitely won’t be past it so this is no reason to consider that we have managed this.

“But I do think things look to be heading in the right direction.”

It comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson ruled out opening schools over the summer to help plug gaps in learning caused by weeks of lockdown.

Mr Williamson also batted off criticism that Boris Johnson missed five Cobra meetings as coronavirus began to tighten its grip on China and much of continental Europe.

He said: “The Prime Minister from the moment that it became clear that there were challenges in terms of coronavirus developing in China has absolutely been leading our nation’s effort to combat the coronavirus, making sure that resources or money is not a concern for any department, especially the health service.”

Michael Gove described as “grotesque” the idea that Boris Johnson had skipped crucial meetings following a report in The Sunday Times, while a Government spokesman said the article contained “a series of falsehoods and errors”.

In other developments:

– Mr Gove denied suggestions the Government has drawn up plans for a three-tiered relaxation of lockdown measures;

– A delivery of 84 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers has been delayed;

– Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he is “optimistic” about finding a vaccine for Covid-19;

– But Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, who is leading a team developing a Covid-19 vaccine, said nobody can be sure it is possible to find a workable vaccine;

– Mr Gove said Mr Johnson is “in cheerful spirits” as he continues his recovery from coronavirus;

– The fundraising campaign for 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore has passed £26 million in donations;

– The Duke of Sussex has thanked NHS workers and volunteers in the fight against Covid-19, saying he is “incredibly proud” of the British public’s response to the pandemic.

The country will enter its fifth week in lockdown on Monday, with continued clamour for a relaxation of measures that have shut schools and businesses, scaled back transport and closed parks and public spaces as Britons are advised to pay heed to social distancing guidelines.

Dr Harries defended the country’s approach to managing the spread of the virus.

She said: “We had and we still have a very clear plan – we had a containment phase and it was very successful.

“We had very strict quarantine regimes from high-risk areas, we followed up individual cases and families wherever that was possible.

“But once you end up with seeding and cases across the community, our focus has to be on managing the clinical conditions of those individuals.”

She cautioned against comparing UK figures with Germany, adding: “We are at different phases of the pandemic.”

Dr Harries said there needs to be “a more adult” conversation regarding lingering questions over the availability of PPE for front-line workers in hospitals and care homes, saying there was “a huge pull on services”.

She said: “I think we perhaps need to, rather than lumping all of the PPE together, which is not a homogeneous mix at all, we just need to think carefully through what has been achieved and the challenges which are acknowledged ahead.”

Mr Williamson said the Government will be responding to manufacturers about producing new PPE within the next 24 hours.

He also used the press conference to outline a package of measures designed to help children being home-schooled.

Mr Williamson also apologised to children for the disruption to their lives.

In a direct address to the nation’s youngsters, he said: “I know how hard it must be and I’d like to thank you for making the adjustments that you’ve had to make.

“I know you will be missing your friends, your teachers, your lessons.

“I want you to know that you are such an important part of this fight, too, and I cannot thank you enough for all that you are doing.”

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