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Britain braces for WEEKS more lockdown as Dominic Raab chairs Cobra

Ministers will commit the UK to weeks more coronavirus lockdown today as Dominic Raab chairs a Cobra crisis meeting for the first time with Boris Johnson still in intensive care.

Hopes of the curbs being eased this month are set to be dashed after experts warned the UK has not yet reached the peak of the killer outbreak. The daily death toll surged to almost 1,000 yesterday.

Amid alarm that Britons could take to beaches and parks over a sunny Easter weekend, police are even urging tighter restrictions such as barring people from driving long distances and making it illegal to exercise more than once a day.  

After the Cobra meeting, being attended by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, senior politicians are set to launch a ‘Stay at Home This Easter’ publicity drive designed to avert an exodus of sunseekers.  

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed this morning that a legally-required review to extend emergency measures will take place next week. 

But while insisting that will be the ‘formal’ decision, he gave a clear sign the lockdown will stay despite mounting evidence that it is wrecking havoc on the economy. 

‘It is essential we stay the course,’ he said. ‘The guidance very much remains in place and will continue to remain in place over the Easter weekend.’ 

One Government source said there was ‘no prospect’ of any easing of the lockdown next week. Another said: ‘Look at the death toll. That puts the question of whether we’ll be lifting restrictions into context.’ 

On another punishing day as the world navigates the biggest crisis in a generation:

  • A respected think-tank has warned that a million people could end up with long-term health conditions as a result of the economic hit from coronavirus lockdown;
  • The Bank of England has extended the government’s Ways and Means provision – effectively its overdraft;
  • It has emerged that MPs have been offered an extra £10,000 in expenses to help them and staff work from home; 

Boris Johnson is still in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London today, although the Prime Minister’s condition is said to be ‘improving’

Armed police walk past the boarded up Silver Cross on Whitehall near Parliament on Wednesday as the coronavirus lockdown continues across Britain

Armed police walk past the boarded up Silver Cross on Whitehall near Parliament on Wednesday as the coronavirus lockdown continues across Britain

A police officer speaks with a gentleman enjoying the pleasant sunshine on a beach in Brighton this week

A police officer speaks with a gentleman enjoying the pleasant sunshine on a beach in Brighton this week

Rishi Sunak confirmed last night that a planned review of the emergency measures will take place next week

Rishi Sunak confirmed last night that a planned review of the emergency measures will take place next week

There can be a time lag of more than three weeks between someone becoming infected with coronavirus and dying. Symptoms take days – if not weeks – to become life-threatening. The death has to be recorded and reported, and the family notified, in a process that takes days

The number of patients in intensive care with coronavirus has stabilised in the past week, in a sign the outbreak is slowing

The number of patients in intensive care with coronavirus has stabilised in the past week, in a sign the outbreak is slowing

Charts show how the UK's coronavirus death toll compares to counts in other nations, including Italy

Charts show how the UK’s coronavirus death toll compares to counts in other nations, including Italy

VACCINE ‘COULD BE READY BY AUTUMN’, SAY OXFORD SCIENTISTS  

Oxford University researchers are confident they can roll out a vaccine for coronavirus within the next eight months.

This ‘best case scenario’ is much sooner than was previously touted. Britain’s chief scientific adviser said it would be at least 2021 until a vaccine was ready.

But the Oxford team, one of hundreds worldwide racing to develop a COVID-19 cure, warned it will be ‘challenging’ if the outbreak peaks before a jab is ready for trials.

With no tests available to identify who has already been infected it could be difficult to find unexposed people to take part in the trial, the researchers say.

More than 500 volunteers aged between 18 and 55 have signed up to the trial and will begin tests towards the end of the month.

Modelling by researchers at the University of Washington predicts Britain will hit its peak on April 17. So far the virus has killed 7,100 and infected 55,000 in the UK. 

The researchers told The Telegraph: ‘The best-case scenario is that by the autumn of 2020 we have the results about the effectiveness of the vaccine from a phase III trial and the ability to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine.’

They admitted that this time frame was ‘highly ambitious’ many things could get in the way of that target. 

‘At the moment it is not possible to identify who has already been infected,’ they added, ‘and if the virus is spreading quickly throughout the population it might be difficult to find unexposed people to take part in the trial.

‘Conducting trials after the peak subsides presents another problem, because so many people will have developed a natural immunity by then, and the amount of transmission will have dropped so that those who are still not immune will take longer to be exposed to the virus.’

There were growing concerns last night over the economic impact of coronavirus as the World Trade Organisation warned of the ‘deepest recession in our lifetimes’.  

The British Chambers of Commerce warned that furloughing staff could cost taxpayers £50billion over the next three months. 

Mr Sunak said a UK-wide decision would not be taken until next week when the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies reports. He also admitted there would be economic ‘hardship ahead’.

Professor Stephen Powis of NHS England said the lockdown was working. But he added: ‘We have to continue following instructions, we have to continue following social distancing – if we don’t, the virus will start to spread again.’

Polling by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori showed nine out of ten people support the lockdown. 

Sung-Il Cho, professor of epidemiology at Seoul National University, told The Daily Telegraph that cases ought to drop below 50 per fortnight before moves towards a ‘gradual recovery.’

Modelling by the newspaper found that for the UK that would mean waiting until the middle of next month.

The South Koreans have been able to bring the virus to heel by a stringent testing regime, contact tracing and quarantines. They have recorded just 200 deaths without imposing a lockdown and record 53 new cases each day.

Professor Chis Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, echoed Mr Sunak, saying that there would be no talk of an exit strategy until ‘we are confident we are beyond the peak.’

However, experts have warned that returning to life after lockdown won’t be a return to normality. Many anticipate that there will be a vicious resurgence of the disease in the autumn.

Prof David Alexander, of University College London’s institute for risk and disaster reduction, told The Telegraph: ‘Britain and other countries should hold themselves ready to return to lockdown, possibly with more stringent conditions than before. In the autumn, a second wave of Covid-19 could occur and could be devastating.’

Another option is to allow the young and healthy to return to work, while others continue with the strict ‘stay at home’ guidance.

But the majorities of scientists believe the government will opt for the strategy of beating the numbers of cases down to a tiny level before proceeding with any liberation of the populace.  

Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, is standing in for Boris Johnson and said it is too soon to consider ending the UK's lockdown and that the country must keep its foot on the pedal

Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, is standing in for Boris Johnson and said it is too soon to consider ending the UK’s lockdown and that the country must keep its foot on the pedal

BORIS JOHNSON ‘RESPONDING TO TREATMENT’ IN NHS INTENSIVE CARE UNIT 

Boris Johnson is ‘stable and responding to treatment’ after his second night in intensive care, it was revealed today.

Downing Street delivered slightly more positive news about the PM’s condition amid claims his fever has finally dropped.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said he continues to receive ‘standard oxygen treatment’ and is ‘breathing without any other assistance’ – making clear he is not on a ventilator.

‘The Prime Minister remains clinically stable and is responding to treatment,’ the spokesman said.

‘He continues to be cared for in the intensive care unit at St Thomas’s Hospital. He’s in good spirits.’

No10 confirmed the PM has not been doing any work, although they said he has been in contact with aides.

There are fears that even the best outcome from his coronavirus struggle will see him out of action for weeks, with experts warning he could need a ‘phased return’ to work.

There are also questions about the PM’s care while he was in isolation, amid suggestions he was not physically monitored and only consulted a doctor by video link. 

Tory MPs are calling for a review of the premier’s medical arrangements, saying the lack of protection has been ‘exposed’ by the latest crisis.

The UK leader has starkly different health support than in the US, where the president has a dedicated medical team and emergency facilities constantly on standby.

And even if that were achieved, life would not suddenly resume as it was before the draconian measures were placed upon us.  Dr Joe Grove, of UCL’s department of infection and immunity, told The Telegraph: ‘Once the current epidemic peak has passed, simply returning to life as usual would likely trigger another epidemic.

‘Ultimately, the only way we can shake off the shackles of Covid-19 is widespread immunity and the only safe way to achieve that is through vaccination. In the meantime, testing gives us a route to some semblance of normality.’

Downing Street has meanwhile expressed grave fears that people will defy its regulations to go out and enjoy the Easter Monday bank holiday sunshine. 

The Government is to formally set down its extension at the start of next week after processing three weeks’ worth of figures. 

Opinion polls show the public still backs the lockdown after the coronavirus claimed a record 938 deaths on Wednesday.

The WHO also agreed with the Government’s position yesterday, Dr Hans Kluge warned: ‘Now is not the time to relax measures.’

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance, will tomorrow meet to discuss how the current regulations on public freedoms have affected the infection and death rates.

Italy, which has recorded the highest number of deaths in the world, extended their lockdown (which started on March 9) until mid-May. Officials have often reminded us that we are two weeks behind the Italians.

Britain’s highest daily death toll on Wednesday (938) can be compared to Italy’s highest of 919 on March 28 (12 days ago), and Spain’s 950 fatalities on April 3.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak warns ministers ‘can NOT save every UK job’ as World Trade Organisation says coronavirus will spark the worst global recession of our lifetimes

By Darren Boyle

Chancellor Rishi Sunak today warned some the job losses caused by the coronavirus crisis will be permanent. 

Mr Sunak, addressing the daily Downing Street press conference warned the public that the lockdown was likely to continue further. 

He said: ‘I’ve been very clear and very honest that this will take a significant impact on our economy.

‘In spite of what are unprecedented measures in scale and scope, I can’t stand here and say I can save every single job, protect every single business or indeed every single charity. That’s just simply not possible.’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned he would not be able to save every job threatened by Covid-19

Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned he would not be able to save every job threatened by Covid-19

Earlier, the World Trade Organisation warned the global pandemic is likely to spark the ‘deepest economic recession of our lifetimes’, with international commerce set to fall by up to a third during 2020.  

Pressed about the lockdown, Mr Sunak said: ‘There will be a Cobra meeting tomorrow chaired by the First Secretary of State (Dominic Raab), involving the devolved administrations to talk about the approach to the review.

‘We committed there would be a review in and around three weeks, that review will be based on the evidence and data provided by Sage, which will only be available next week.

Piccadilly Circus was virtually abandoned this evening as Britons continue the lockdown

Piccadilly Circus was virtually abandoned this evening as Britons continue the lockdown 

‘But I think rather than speculate about the future, I think we should focus very seriously on the here and now and the present.’

Mr Sunak said the priority is to stop the spread of the virus and insisted people should follow the advice to stay at home.

On the prospect of different parts of the country emerging from the lockdown at different times, Mr Sunak said: ‘I don’t want to start speculating about the future.’    

‘We are out of lockdown, but sneeze and you’re shunned’: Briton living in Wuhan reveals how the joy of freedom after 76 days is tainted by China’s draconian security measures on the streets

As lockdown in Wuhan is finally lifted, a 32-year-old British expat who has been working in the city for several years sends this vivid despatch on the realities of freedom. 

At midnight on Tuesday, I was woken up by whoops and cheers of ‘Come on Wuhan’ as my neighbours in this city of 11 million that spawned the coronavirus pandemic celebrated the formal end of quarantine after 77 long, frustrating days. 

For a week, I’d been permitted to leave my compound on specific errands for up to two hours, but yesterday was the first day that I could come and go as I pleased. 

The shops are reopening so I can buy razors and give myself a proper shave – re-using the same razor for almost three months has been a nightmare. I can finally get a haircut, too. 

The 32-year-old British expat said: 'Freedom after so long is welcome but nerve-wracking.' Pictured: Workers wearing facemasks make a barbecue at a market in Wuhan

The 32-year-old British expat said: ‘Freedom after so long is welcome but nerve-wracking.’ Pictured: Workers wearing facemasks make a barbecue at a market in Wuhan

And some restaurants have resumed service. 

The first thing I did was to go to my favourite noodle restaurant for its beef special that is so delicious I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the same day. 

The local Starbucks is busy and a nearby bar has just had its first beer delivery for more than two months. Before the virus hit, life in China was all about convenience. If you wanted to get a toothbrush delivered at 4am, then you could. 

But under lockdown we’d wait three days for a community delivery of specific goods: fresh vegetables, meat – mostly pork – rice and flour. 

If you fancied something different, tough. I went out early yesterday morning and was surprised by the number of people and cars on the streets. 

But it was rush hour and the crowds were an indication of a widespread return to work. 

Roadblocks on highways leading in and out of the city have also been removed. 

Life is being breathed back into the city, which is the capital of Hubei, a province that has suffered 67,803 cases of Covid-19 and 3,213 deaths, according to official figures. 

Citizens can now travel between cities again and the local airport is back in business. 

There were no fewer than 200 flights scheduled to depart Wuhan yesterday, carrying 10,000 passengers. 

Tens of thousands more left on 100 high-speed trains. Day care centres, schools and colleges remain shut dependent on a ruling from Beijing on when they can reopen, but it surely won’t be long. 

Yes, normality is returning but darker undertones persist. Freedom after so long is welcome but nerve-wracking. 

Every few days, security guards come banging on my door – it can happen early in the morning or late at night – and three people in full protective clothing, visors and masks will come and have a look around my apartment and check me for signs of fever with a ‘thermometer gun’. 

Another person records the procedure on a mobile phone. 

Out on the streets it’s the same story – security guards armed with thermometer ‘guns’ to do spot checks maintain a highprofile presence, while trucks cruise the streets spraying disinfectant. 

And many people are continuing to wear facemasks. There is still tension and wariness here. 

Cough or sneeze on the street and people will cross the road to avoid you. Anyone who looks sick is treated like a leper. 

To Western eyes, the mass surveillance and monitoring is draconian. 

Each citizen is allocated a unique QR code, via the WeChat app, that serves as proof they are healthy. 

The QR code is linked to an individual’s government ID card and includes details of a blood test and health check that show they are virus-free. 

No one is allowed to leave a gated community, use public transport or visit shopping malls or buy food without having scanned their code. 

Foreigners like me are not entitled to a QR code. I carry a letter from my doctor testifying to my virus-free status which I show along with my ID card. 

Life is being breathed back into the city, which is the capital of Hubei, a province that has suffered 67,803 cases of Covid-19 and 3,213 deaths, according to official figures. Pictured: Passengers wait to enter the railway station after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan, China

Life is being breathed back into the city, which is the capital of Hubei, a province that has suffered 67,803 cases of Covid-19 and 3,213 deaths, according to official figures. Pictured: Passengers wait to enter the railway station after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan, China

This is the reality that has replaced lockdown now. To be checked and checked again. 

Will it be enough to stop a second wave of infections? I hope so. 

Wuhan is paying a high economic price for the lockdown. 

The seafood market identified as the most likely source of this new strain of coronavirus outbreak remains sealed off by blue police tape, and is heavily patrolled by officers. 

Walk down any street and you will see stores that have been abandoned because retailers can no longer afford to pay the rent. 

Clothing shops, speciality restaurants, and even some banks are still closed with trash piling up outside. 

No wonder many of the people who came to Wuhan from the countryside to find work left at the first opportunity yesterday. But people are returning. 

The Wuhan quarantine was put in place during the Spring Festival, as the Chinese New Year celebration is known, a time when many people had left the city to visit family in their hometowns. 

From my window I see young couples laden with luggage moving back to homes they have not lived in since January. 

And this brings me to a problem that many here might rather stayed hidden. 

Some of those who left Wuhan to celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Rat elsewhere, left their cats, dogs and other pets behind with enough water and food for a few days. 

After all, they’d be back very soon… 

‘New cases are NOT accelerating out of control… and that’s good news’: Official charts show UK’s coronavirus curve IS flattening, despite grim record of 938 new deaths – more than Italy’s worst daily tally – taking toll to 7,097

By Sam Blanchard 

‘New cases are NOT accelerating out of control… and that’s good news’: Official charts show UK’s coronavirus curve IS flattening, despite grim record of 938 new deaths – more than Italy’s worst daily tally – taking toll to 7,097 

The UK’s coronavirus outbreak is slowing, Government experts say – despite the death toll jumping by a record high of 938, overtaking Italy’s worst-ever day (919) during the COVID-19 crisis.

Number 10’s deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Angela McLean reassured Britons that the outbreak was not ‘out of control’, pointing to the figures showing the deceleration of hospital admissions and cases and calling it ‘good news’. 

The numbers suggest the lockdown is working, with the drop in hospital admissions for the virus expected to lead to reduced death tolls in the next week or two.

However, today’s record death toll is expected to be repeated or even surpassed in the coming days, as the peak of the virus hits Britain.

The number of Britons who have died in hospital after testing positive for the life-threatening illness is now 7,097 – more than double the tally of China, where the pandemic began in December.   

Department of Health data shows the number of cases increased by 5,491 today, meaning at least 60,733 Britons have been infected since the outbreak began spreading between humans on UK soil in February. 

But the huge jump is largely down to the Government yesterday testing around 3,000 more people than it usually does, swabbing almost 13,000 suspected patients for the killer virus compared to 9,740 the day before.  

Today’s surge in deaths saw Britain surpass Italy’s deadliest day on March 27, when officials in Rome recorded 919 new fatalities among hospitalised patients. Spain recorded 950 deaths in hospital on April 2. But the numbers are dwarfed by the US, which is being hammered by the virus with more than 400,000 cases. It recorded 1,799 deaths yesterday. 

However, the drop in hospital admissions and the cautious optimism of Prof McLean, suggests there is light at the end of the tunnel for Britain, with the effects of the lockdown expected to be seen in death tolls after next week.  

UK’s lockdown IS working: Symptom-tracking app says 500,000 FEWER Britons have tell-tale coronavirus symptoms this week

The number of people with coronavirus symptoms has plummeted since the UK’s lockdown started two weeks ago, according to scientists.

A team of researchers at King’s College London, who developed the COVID Symptom Tracker app, say the number of people reporting symptoms has dropped.

Latest analysis from the app, which has been used by more than two million people, estimates that there are now around 1.4million with symptomatic coronavirus in the UK.

This is a drop from a projected 1.9million on April 1 and the scientists called it ‘really encouraging’. 

And its first analysis on March 26 had suggested around one in 10 people were ill with, or had already had, COVID-19 – which could have worked out as some 6.6million people.

The significantly lower estimate since then suggests that people staying at home, after the Prime Minister’s speech on March 23, is starting to slow the outbreak down.

But officials in all corners – including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and the World Health Organization – have said it is too soon to even think about lifting the social distancing measures. 

As the NHS and Government battle to maintain their grip on the outbreak, stricken Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains on an intensive care unit in a central London hospital, where his spokesman says he is in a stable condition and ‘responding to treatment’. The PM was admitted on Monday night after suffering a fever for 10 days.  

Attention has now turned to Mr Johnson’s vow to evaluate the progress of the UK’s lockdown next week, which it looks like he will be unable to do. Downing Street says it will delay the evaluation, and there are no signs the stay-at-home measures will be lifted soon. London Mayor Sadiq Khan says the UK is ‘nowhere near’ the end. 

This sentiment was echoed by the World Health Organization’s director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, who said it would be ‘dangerous’ to try and ease the rules too soon. Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic started, has only today started to let its citizens travel again, 73 days after its prescient lockdown was enforced in January.

NHS England today confirmed 828 more people have died in its hospitals, with patients aged between 22 and 103 years old and of whom 42 had been otherwise healthy. The other 110 deaths were recorded across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Italy issued official death toll figures of 919 for March 27, but, the same day, one region revealed it had missed off 50 deaths.

These extra 50 deaths were added to the daily total by most media outlets around the world including MailOnline, the BBC, CNN and AFP among many others.

However, Italy added the 50 ‘missing’ deaths to the previous day’s figures (March 26), so the official March 27 figure (Italy’s highest) is 919.

Speaking at today’s daily coronavirus briefing, Professor McLean said: ‘This count of new cases in the UK, day by day over the last few weeks, is not accelerating out of control.

‘Yesterday, there were 5,492 new cases and the spread of the virus is not accelerating and that is good news.’

When the death tolls of all four UK countries are combined the total number of fatalities is 7,172.

Alice Kit Tak Ong, 70, died of COVID-19 in London yesterday after working for the NHS for 40 years since moving from Hong Kong

Tributes have poured in for Rebecca Mack (pictured), a child cancer nurse from Newcastle who's died from coronavirus

The deaths of two more NHS nurses were announced today – Alice Kit Tak Ong (left) and Rebecca Mack (right)

But because the statistics are recorded differently in each nation, numbers announced by the Department of Health each day are lower. 

Experts warn that people should take the daily death tolls announced by governments as a guide rather than a concrete number for each day.

Many of the fatalities announced each afternoon happened days or weeks ago, and many of the people who have actually died in the past 24 hours will not be counted in the numbers for days or weeks to come.

This means that each day’s death count does not represent the date on which it is announced – it includes almost entirely deaths which happened more than 24 hours ago, and all the fatalities which actually happened on that day are announced officially in dribs and drabs in the days and weeks that follow.

University of Oxford’s Professor Jim Naismith said yesterday: ‘The current methods of reporting… has become unhelpful and distracting in evaluating the progress of the pandemic. 

‘The swings in numbers that we are seeing are emotionally draining; hope one day and despair the next.’ 

He said the numbers of new positive tests and hospitalisations were a more accurate picture of the day-by-day situation, because there is no time delay on those. 

Medical staff are pictured practicing loading and unloading a stretcher from an ambulance outside the NHS Nightingale Hospital in East London

Medical staff are pictured practicing loading and unloading a stretcher from an ambulance outside the NHS Nightingale Hospital in East London

A total 704 new cases were diagnosed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the past 24 hours. 

In recent days they have been reasons to be cheerful, with the 3,634 cases diagnosed yesterday the lowest for a week. For the past seven days the number has remained relatively stable at around 4,000 per day. 

Today’s statistics come as Downing Street confirmed that the Government will not consider when it ought to bring an end to the UK’s lockdown next Monday. Officials pledged to review the situation every three weeks.

Next Monday will mark three weeks since Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the entire country to stay at home.  

Downing Street merely said there will be a review ‘on or around’ the three-week mark – with the law requiring a technical extension by April 16.

A woman was pictured sticking a drawing of a rainbow to the window of 10 Downing Street today, with the caption 'We are in this together'

Similar images have appeared in households all over the country to pay tribute to the NHS

A woman was pictured sticking a drawing of a rainbow to the window of 10 Downing Street today, with the caption ‘We are in this together’. Similar images have appeared in households all over the country to pay tribute to the NHS

Chief scientific adviser to the Government, Sir Patrick Vallance, said last night that official statistics were starting to show ‘the beginning of change’ for Britain but it would still be at least a week until a clear picture of the epidemic emerged.

Mr Raab stressed at the daily Downing Street briefing last night that authorities could not consider easing the lockdown restrictions until it was clear the peak of the epidemic had passed and it could be ‘responsibly done’.

However, emergency legislation laid before Parliament three days after the PM’s announcement states that a review must take place every 21 days, with the first deadline being April 16.

Pressed on when the review will happen, health minister Edward Argar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘When the scientific advice is such that we appear to have gone over the peak and it is safe to do so.’

London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that an easing of the restrictions could be a long way off. ‘I think we are nowhere near lifting the lockdown,’ he told the BBC.

‘We think the peak, which is the worst part of the virus, is still probably a week and a half away.’

WHO regional director for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said in an update that relaxing lockdown too early would be ‘dangerous’.

‘We still have a long way to go in the marathon and the progress we have made so far in fighting the virus is extremely fragile,’ he said.

‘To think we are coming close to an end point would be a dangerous thing to do. The virus leaves no room for error or complacency.

‘Any shift in our response strategy, relaxing of lockdown status or physical distancing measures requires very careful consideration.’

But a minister told the Times that reopening schools should be one of the first moves in easing then lockdown.

Experts have said the closures are likely only to have a limited effect on the spread, and mean much of the workforce are tied up with childcare.

‘We need to be led by the science, of course,’ the minister said.

‘But if we can reopen schools after the Easter holidays things could begin to get back to normal. It could kick-start the economy.’

While the country is anxious to know when the tough new living restrictions will start to be relaxed, it is only today that Wuhan, the Chinese city home to the livestock market where the entire global pandemic began, has allowed its citizens to travel again.

The railways and airport reopened and people are no longer on effective city-wide house arrest. The city had been under total lockdown for a total of 73 days since mid-January when officials realised the disease outbreak was out of control.

The rest of China quickly followed suit and now most of Europe is enduring similar conditions after global travel during the Chinese crisis spread the virus to almost every country on Earth.

At the height of the city’s epidemic Wuhan, a city of 11million residents, saw citizens forced into their homes by authorities and transport hubs and streets were deserted except for police patrols and emergency workers.

But restrictions in the city have dropped off in recent days as new infections significantly fell. For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, mainland China reported no COVID-19-related deaths on Tuesday. 

Wuhan reported just two new infections in the past 14 days but Chinese authorities must now tread a very fine line between granting more freedom of movement to citizens, and guarding against a second wave of infections. 

Tall barriers remain in place around housing compounds and people are only permitted to leave if they have a green health code or are carrying documents stipulating a valid reason.  

In the UK last night there was cautious optimism from chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance,that the fight against COVID-19 ‘could be moving in the right direction’.

Sir Patrick said there were signs that the rates of new infections and new hospital admissions for COVID-19 were ‘flattening off’ and that reductions in these statistics would eventually lead to death rates falling in the coming weeks.

Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser for the Ministry of Defence Angela McLean speaking during a remote press conference to update the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic

Britain’s Chief Scientific Adviser for the Ministry of Defence Angela McLean speaking during a remote press conference to update the nation on the COVID-19 pandemic

But he added it would be another ‘week or so’ before they could be sure, indicating lockdown measures would not be eased before then, and said day-to-day figures do not present an accurate picture of the situation.

Current death rates in Britain suggest someone is dying of COVID-19 roughly every two minutes and Birmingham is the local authority at the epicentre of the UK’s crisis.

Yesterday saw a further 786 deaths reported and statistics show the NHS trust with the most victims in England is University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB), followed by several trusts in London.

Although London is being hit harder by the disease, it is broken into more local councils and NHS boards than Birmingham is, spreading the pressure out over a greater area and number of staff.

As of yesterday, UHB had recorded 263 deaths, 37 of which were announced on Tuesday. Birmingham has also consistently had the most coronavirus cases throughout the outbreak in comparison to other local authorities.

Almost 1,400 of the UK’s total 55,242 cases have been in Birmingham, higher than any single borough in London or elsewhere in England. At the other end of the scale, Rutland has recorded just six cases.

Nationwide the number of people saying they have symptoms of the coronavirus is falling, according to scientists at King’s College London.

The researchers developed an app called COVID Symptom Tracker which has been downloaded by more than two million people. They self-reported data from people across the UK suggests lockdown could be working.

Calculations suggest that around 1.4million people are currently suffering from symptomatic coronavirus infection, down from around 1.9m on April 1. On March 26, three days after Boris Johnson introduced lockdown, the team predicted more than six million people could be ill or recovered. 

The significantly lower estimate since then suggests that people staying at home, after the Prime Minister’s speech on March 23, is starting to slow the outbreak down.

But officials in all corners – including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and the World Health Organization – have said it is too soon to even think about lifting the social distancing measures.

It will take at least another week for any effects of the lockdown to filter through to hospitals, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said yesterday.

The COVID Symptom Tracker app works by members of the public filling out forms which describe their health and ask about possible coronavirus symptoms.

Healthy people, those who think they might have COVID-19, and those who have been officially diagnosed are all encouraged to take part in it.

One of the app’s developers, Professor Tim Spector, said: ‘It is really encouraging to see that the rate of new symptoms being reported is beginning to fall.

‘Even though hospital admissions and deaths are still on the rise, we hope that these figures offer a much needed light at the end of the tunnel.

‘The altruism of the UK public combined with modern technology is allowing us to rapidly collect huge amounts of invaluable data to help us better understand this deadly virus.

‘We would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person who is already participating and would urge everyone else to download the app and check in every day, whether you are experiencing any symptoms or feeling fine.’       

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