Business leaders and politicians pleaded last night with the Government to unlock the economy and get Britain moving after figures appeared to show the Covid-19 outbreak was coming under control.
Official figures revealed on Thursday how deaths, hospital admissions and new infections have dropped significantly since the epidemic peaked in early April.
The R-rate – which shows how quickly the virus is spreading – is also said to be falling.
Experts suggested coronavirus was ‘disappearing’ from the UK, with deaths down and new cases in London below 50 a day
Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University, said coronavirus was ‘disappearing at a rate that’s speeding up’, and urged politicians to ‘open up businesses’ to prevent a second wave of deaths caused by economic collapse.
Conservative former leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We need to move fast. The threat facing us now, outweighing coronavirus, is that of a failing economy.’
Tory ex-minister John Redwood said: ‘We are going to have unemployment on a scale not seen for many a year… unless we get furloughed people back to work.’
Quarantine for ‘high-risk’ contacts
Britons will have to self-isolate for 14 days if they come into close contact with someone infected by coronavirus under the Government’s new ‘test and trace’ scheme, it emerged last night.
Government testing tsar John Newton told NHS chiefs that ‘high risk’ contacts of confirmed Covid-19 sufferers would be asked to quarantine for a fortnight, even if they have no symptoms. Professor Newton said: ‘If proper social distancing is in place the number of contacts will be small.’
Government sources last night confirmed that the launch of the ‘test and trace’ scheme has been delayed until next week.
The scheme will initially go ahead without the smartphone app tested on the Isle of Wight – instead 25,000 trackers will trace the contacts of new cases.
London has recorded fewer than 100 new cases of coronavirus every day for the past fortnight, compared with more than 1,000 a day at the beginning of April.
Figures released by Public Health England last night revealed that only 24 people in London tested positive on May 16, and just 51 tested positive on May 15 – the most recent days for which reliable data is available.
Deaths in hospitals peaked six weeks ago, and since then three quarters of NHS trusts in England have seen death rates fall.
On Thursday, more than half of NHS hospital trusts – 126 out of 218 – reported no new coronavirus deaths, and a third have gone successive days with no new deaths.
This compares with 41 reporting no new deaths on April 8. Two deaths of patients under 40 have been reported in the past two days. Both had underlying health conditions.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed last night that around one in six people in London and one in 20 elsewhere in England have had coronavirus.
An antibody surveillance study led by the Office for National Statistics suggests 17 per cent of people in London and around 5 per cent in England have tested positive for antibodies to coronavirus.
On Friday, the ONS will publish a new estimate of the R-rate, which ministers want to keep below a value of one, or R1.
But a Whitehall source said it was already much lower than the headline rate, suggesting ministers have more room to ease the lockdown.
The source said the headline R-rate was about 0.75, but Government experts said privately that in the community it was more like 0.5.
Conservative former leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We need to move fast. The threat facing us now, outweighing coronavirus, is that of a failing economy’
On Thursday, MPs warned that the threat of a tanking economy now outweighed the risk from coronavirus.
They said that unless the exit from lockdown accelerated the UK would face an unemployment rate not seen since the Thirties.
Business leaders said firms were ‘fully ready to open’, adding: ‘Another week closed is another week closer to business failure.’
The figures will add to calls to lift the lockdown in London, which contributes a quarter of Britain’s GDP.
Some 1.8million people nationwide have signed up for Universal Credit since the lockdown began, and the Government’s furlough scheme pays 7.5million.
Downing Street said it was too early to be certain the virus was under control. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted that ‘extreme caution’ was needed in order not to ‘risk the sacrifice of the public in suppressing the spread of the infection’
Experts have warned that if the lockdown continues more firms will shut. Businesses in the hospitality and retail industries are begging the Government to trust them to reopen with social distancing rules.
Kate Nicholls, of the umbrella group UK Hospitality, said: ‘If we leave it much longer many businesses won’t survive and we will see redundancies.
‘We are ready to go from July 4. Parts of the sector… could be ready more quickly.’
Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: ‘The 27,000 pubs in the UK with beer gardens will be amongst the best placed to re-open under social distancing conditions and so should be amongst the first to reopen.’
But Downing Street said it was too early to be certain the virus was under control.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted that ‘extreme caution’ was needed in order not to ‘risk the sacrifice of the public in suppressing the spread of the infection.’
Screen tea? Cafe culture, corona-style
For coffee shop lovers, the lockdown has robbed them of a cherished daily routine.
But one cafe owner believes he has brewed up the perfect solution to get customers to return when restrictions are lifted.
Francini Osorio has installed 35 clear shower curtains to keep customers separated from other tables.
Cafe owner Francini Osorio, who owns the Francini Cafe De Colombia in Worcester, has installed 35 clear shower curtains to keep customers separated from other tables
He has also put in an air purifier and plans to provide gloves for each table at the Francini Cafe De Colombia in Worcester
He has also put in an air purifier and plans to provide gloves for each table at the Francini Cafe De Colombia in Worcester.
The businessman is now conducting a trial to see if the measures are workable.
Mr Osorio, who along with his baristas will wear a mask and gloves, said: ‘The idea is to keep people together but separated by the curtain.’ Cafes and restaurants in the UK are mostly limited to a drive-thru or takeaway service during lockdown.
Just 0.25 per cent of Britons are now infected with coronavirus
By Daniel Martin, Policy Editor for the Daily Mail
Just one in 400 Britons outside hospitals or care homes were infected with coronavirus at any one point in the first weeks of May, official assessments show.
A snapshot by the Office for National Statistics found that 137,000 – 0.24 per cent of the population – had the virus.
They found there were no differences in infection rates among different age groups, or between men and women.
The surveys – taken between May 4 and May 17 – also suggest that frontline NHS or care home workers are no longer more likely to be infected than others.
Just one in 400 Britons outside hospitals or care homes were infected with coronavirus at any one point in the first weeks of May, official assessments show. Pictured: Beaches remained busy on Friday, including Southend in Essex
This is a dramatic reversal of findings in a similar survey carried out by the ONS in late April and early May when doctors, nurses and care workers were found to be six times more likely to test positive.
The ONS could not explain the shift in the pattern of infection.
But the change may be linked to an increased availability of personal protective equipment for frontline workers.
Its report said: ‘There is no evidence of a difference between the proportions testing positive for patient-facing healthcare or resident-facing social care roles and people not working in these roles.’
ONS surveys carried out in the fortnight before May 4, based on nearly 15,000 swab tests taken in England, showed 1.33 per cent of NHS and care home workers were infected compared with just 0.22 per cent of others.
A snapshot by the Office for National Statistics found that 137,000 – 0.24 per cent of the population – had the virus. Pictured: The promenade in Brighton was thronged with visitors on Thursday
The previous survey showed that 148,000 were infected in England at any one time, but the ONS said ‘the change is relatively small and it should be interpreted that the number of people in England that have Covid-19 is relatively stable’.
The study found there were an estimated 61,000 new infections per week in England over the past four weeks, excluding those working in hospitals or care homes.
This is higher than the daily Government figures, but the ONS said estimating infection levels is hugely complicated and its 137,000 snapshot figure could in reality be as high as 208,000 or as low as 85,000.