Coronavirus will affect everyday life for 'really quite a long time' Professor Whitty says

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener

Everyday life in the UK will not go back to normal for "really quite a long period of time" due to coronavirus, England's chief medical officer has said as he looked towards the easing of lockdown restrictions.

Professor Chris Whitty echoed Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in saying lockdown must not be eased until a second peak of the virus can be averted.

He said social distancing measures would have to remain in place until a vaccine or effective drugs to treat coronavirus can be found, which he warned was unlikely to happen this year.

  • ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan has the latest on the coronavirus outbreak in the UK:

Experts say the UK has now reached its Covid-19 peak, but Professor Whitty says it would be a "wholly unrealistic expectation" to believe all restrictions will soon be lifted.

“We are going to have to do a lot of things for really quite a long period of time, the question is what is the best package and this is what we’re trying to work out," he said.

Dominic Raab was flanked at the press conference by England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and the Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter. Credit: 10 Downing Street

“Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that," he said.

“We’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment."

Looking ahead to a potential exit from lockdown, Professor Whitty said “If you release more on one area, you have to keep on board more of another area so there’s a proper trade-off and this is what ministers are having to consider.”

First Secretary Raab - who is deputising for recovering Prime Minister Boris Johnson - said the UK has reached the coronavirus peak but is "not out the woods yet".

Mr Raab said if restrictions were eased now, "we would risk a second spike of the virus".

He said that would result in "a second lockdown which would prolong the economic pain that we’re all going through".

“That’s why the measures we introduced must remain in place for the time being," he said.

"If we stick to our plan, if we take the right steps at the right time we can get through this crisis and I know we will," he added.

Looking ahead to end of lockdown, he said: "There is certainly light at the end of the tunnel, there is a glimmer, but we’re not there yet."

Despite positive signs, England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned people should not expect that Covid-19-related deaths will “fall away” suddenly.

Taking in evidence from other countries around the world, Mr Whitty said coronavirus curves have been going down slowly.

"Even in those countries which started their epidemic curve earlier than in the UK, and which are still ahead, the downward slope from the point which we change is a relatively slow one," he said.

“We should anticipate the same situation in the UK."

The pair were both asked about death figures from the Care Quality Commission(CQC), which have suggested the rate of deaths in care homes could be double what was reported by the ONS on Tuesday.

Asked whether it was "inevitable" care home deaths would soar, due to the elderly being more vulnerable to the disease, Mr Raab said it was not.

Mr Raab said the government was "doing everything" it can to protect care homes, the workers and the residents.

"Of course, it is a vulnerable part of our community" he admitted.

Prof Whitty said there were likely to be a high number of deaths in care homes because those living in them were in a vulnerable category.

“In care homes, what we have is a large number of people of the most vulnerable age for this virus,” he said.

He said current statistics, that suggest 826 people in care homes have died, were likely to be an “underestimate”.

"I’m sure we will see a high mortality rate in care homes sadly because this is a very vulnerable group and people are coming in and out of care homes and that cannot, to some extent, be prevented," he added.

Mr Raab said that testing will “play a really important role in the next phase of the crisis”.

But Prof Whitty said there is still not an antibody test available that Public Health England has enough confidence in to provide an idea of how many people in the UK have had coronavirus.

“The problem we have had is we do not yet have a test that is as good as we would want,” he said.

And with just eight days to go, the UK is way off its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of April, testing capabilities have been questioned.

The coronavirus update from Mr Raab comes after he faced a grilling at PMQs from new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said the government had been "slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on protective equipment".

Sir Keir believes "serious mistakes" have been made in the UK's response to coronavirus and wants ministers to be "held accountable", his spokesman said.

Also speaking at the press conference was the Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter.

Sir Nicholas outlined what work the military had been doing to help the UK in its fight against coronavirus.

He noted the seven 'Nightingale' hospitals which have been set up around the country.

He described the support the military has been giving to the NHS as the “single greatest logistic challenge that I have come across”.

He said in 25 days the NHS had gone from 240 customers they deliver to normally to nearly 50,000 customers, which involved creating 260,000 sq ft of distribution warehousing.

Gen Carter also said: “Our role has been entirely in support of the heroic healthcare workers on the frontline – that’s both the NHS and social care – with humility very much being our watchword in the way that we give that support.”

"We've even mobilised 99-year-old veterans", he said as he thanked Captain Tom Moore for raising more than £25 million for the NHS.

He said: “I think everyone would agree that Captain Tom Moore embodies the sense of service and duty ingrained in our Armed Forces.”

Despite criticisms, Mr Raab boasted about the number of PPE that has been delivered in the UK, after Downing Street said more than 23.6 million items of PPE were delivered to 198 NHS trusts yesterday.

He pointed to a delayed RAF flight containing 84 tonnes of PPE arrived in the UK from Turkey this morning.