'We are at the peak': Matt Hancock notes positive sign but warns against relaxing coronavirus lockdown

The UK has reached its coronavirus "peak", the health secretary has said, but he warned against relaxing lockdown restrictions until "five tests" were able to be met by the government.

Matt Hancock told how experts have "high confidence" the peak has been reached, but "obviously" the number of infections need to "come down".

"We are at the peak. But before we relax any social distancing rules or make changes to them we have set out the five tests that have to be met," he told MPs during a statement on the virus.

He said before any relaxation of restrictions could even be considered, experts need to see the curve "start to come down".

When that happens, the government will be hoping to tick off these requirements, before lockdown is eased:

  • When there's a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak

  • Once data from Sage shows the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels around the country

  • When testing capacity and PPE is sufficient enough to meet future demand

  • When experts are confident that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections

  • When NHS’s ability to cope is protected and experts are confident that the NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care across the UK

Deborah Philbrow, founder of Hursley Workroom near Winchester, arranges completed scrubs in her company workshop. Credit: PA

“We do not have an answer to the question of when that will all be do-able because we have not yet seen the curve start to come down, and we don’t know the pace that which that curve will come down under the current social distancing rules," Mr Hancock said.

Despite the government saying the peak had been reached, scientists think that happened two weeks ago on April 8.

The death rate had been consistent for the last 13 days, a panel convened by the Science Media Centre said about the data released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday.

Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “From an epidemiological perspective we can say that the numbers are consistent with the peak happening on April 8.

“We’ve now tracked for 13 days that that has been consistent – it hasn’t jumped up.

“All of the other data surrounding this, the triangulation of the data is showing us that is the case.”

Mr Hancock went on to say the test, track and trace approach is a “critical” part of keeping the spread of the virus low.

Conservative former health secretary Jeremy Hunt asked if it will be possible to track and trace every new Covid-19 case in the community in the next two weeks, at the point the Cabinet will consider whether to lift the lockdown.

Mr Hancock replied: “We are ramping up our testing capacity and our capacity for contact-tracing in a matter of weeks, and we’ll have it ready to make sure that we can use that as and when the incidence of transmission comes down."

Number 10 said work was “already under way” to ensure the staff and capabilities are in place for contact tracing.

The PM’s spokesman said: “We are working on tracking and tracing, we’re working on an app, and I think we’ve also discussed before that it will involve the recruitment of extra staff in order to also work on the track-and-trace programme.”

He added: “The work is already under way to ensure that we have the staff and the capabilities which we will need to introduce track-and-tracing.”

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener explains contact tracing:

Mr Hancock added: "The effectiveness of test, track and trace to keep the reproductive rate of this virus down is determined by the incidence in the community and our goal is to get to a point where we can test, track and trace everybody who needs it."

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it looks like the UK “is heading to one of the worst death rates in Europe”.

He asked Mr Hancock for an explanation as to why the UK "death rate seems so poor, compared, for example, to Germany?"

The health secretary responded that the government is “constantly doing” important analysis as to why the death rate as a proportion of the population in Germany is lower.

But he rubbished suggestions made on Tuesday that the UK's death figure was 40% higher when deaths outside hospitals were considered.

Mr Hancock said: “Yesterday there was some debate about whether the ONS figures showed that deaths … when you measure deaths outside of hospitals were 40% higher. It turned out that wasn’t true. It was comparing apples and pears, and the real figure is closer to 20%.”

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know: