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Coronavirus UK: Chris Whitty admits mass testing came too late

Britain should have acted more quickly and followed the example of Germany to introduce mass coronavirus testing, England’s Chief Medical Officer admitted today. 

Professor Chris Whitty spoke as figures released today show that Berlin has managed to keep its death toll below that of the UK despite having around double the confirmed cases.

Today was Britain’s darkest day yet in its coronavirus crisis with 786 more fatalities confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking the total death toll to 6,159 victims from a total of 55,242 positive tests. 

In contrast, Germany has reported more than 100,000 cases of coronavirus but just 1,600 deaths, and the Government is already privately discussing lifting its movement restrictions.

It has been testing more than 50,000 people per day, while the UK is at little more than 10,000, with plans to hit 100,000 by the end of April.

At tonight’s televised news conference, Prof Whitty added: ‘We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus and there’s a lot to learn from that and we’ve been trying to learn the lessons from that.’

Professor Chris Whitty spoke as figures released today show that Berlin has managed to keep its death toll below that of the UK despite having around double the confirmed cases

International coronavirus death league table

International coronavirus death league table

A leaked document from Germany’s interior ministry has already laid out plans for lifting the lockdown, although Angela Merkel says it is too early to set a date.

The country added fewer than 4,000 cases to its coronavirus tally for the second day running today, in the latest promising sign that the peak may have passed.

The increase of 3,834 cases follows a similar jump of 3,677 yesterday, bringing the total number of infections from 95,391 to 99,225.

The 4.0 per cent rise is almost identical to yesterday’s increase, which was the lowest since the crisis began.

However, the jump of 173 deaths is higher than yesterday’s 92, bringing the total from 1,434 to 1,607.

The document says restrictions could be eased if the rate of contagion is below 1.0, meaning that each patient is infecting less than one other person on average.

If that is achieved, children could return to school on a regional basis, and restaurants could re-open with a limited number of customers.

Mrs Merkel said restrictions would be lifted step by step, warning that public health would always be the first consideration.

Germany is seemingly able to acquire tests from domestic manufacturers while Britain is having to import them.

Germany is home to a strong network of biotech and pharmaceutical companies, including Landt, which has made and helped distribute four million COVID-19 tests.

Asked what could be learned from Germany, where the rate of growth in the number of deaths was much slower, chief scientific adviser Sir Sir Patrick Vallance said: ‘You’re right, the German curve looks as though it’s lower at the moment, and that is important, and I don’t have a clear answer for you to exactly what it is, the reason for that, and there are obviously two things that one will look at in terms of any response to any outbreak.

‘One is the virus itself and the other is the society into which that virus comes, and there are things to do with demographics, there are things to do with the way systems are organised and of course there may be differences in the way certain responses have been taken.’

At the news conference, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime minister Boris Johnson while he remains in intensive care in hospital, insisted the Government’s commitment to reach 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of the month ‘still stands’.

With concerns that antibody tests will not be ready, meaning antigen tests would need to be significantly ramped up, he said: ‘Lots of these things are in very high demand but we are doing everything we can on every front to get all of the testing capabilities we need.

At the news conference, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime minister Boris Johnson while he remains in intensive care in hospital, insisted the Government's commitment to reach 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of the month 'still stands'

At the news conference, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Prime minister Boris Johnson while he remains in intensive care in hospital, insisted the Government’s commitment to reach 100,000 coronavirus tests per day by the end of the month ‘still stands’

‘But yes, the Health Secretary’s 100,000 per day target still stands.’

Sir Patrick said following Italy’s death rate trajectory did not mean the UK would end up with the same end result.

He made the comments in response to a question about whether there were any lessons to be learnt given the UK remained three to fours weeks behind Italy’s Covid-19 pattern.

‘This is a pandemic, which means it is everywhere,’ he told the press conference.

‘That is why we are seeing it across many different countries and across all populations.

‘And we are probably three or four weeks behind Italy in terms of the outbreak. It doesn’t mean we end up with the same numbers.

‘And of course it is important, as the ICU capacity has been built up, the idea of keeping the numbers below the ICU capacity is absolutely critical.’

Germany sees fewer than 4,000 new coronavirus infections for a second day in growing sign the country has flattened the Covid-19 curve

By Tim Stickings 

Germany added fewer than 4,000 cases to its coronavirus tally for the second day running today, in the latest promising sign that the peak may have passed. 

The increase of 3,834 cases follows a similar jump of 3,677 yesterday, bringing the total number of infections from 95,391 to 99,225. 

The 4.0 per cent rise is almost identical to yesterday’s increase, which was the lowest since the crisis began.  

However, the jump of 173 deaths is higher than yesterday’s 92, bringing the total from 1,434 to 1,607. 

The head of the Robert Koch Institute, which collects the figures, warned it was too early to say that the crisis is easing despite ‘encouraging’ recent numbers.  

This graph shows the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Germany, which has stayed below 4,000 for two days running

This graph shows the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Germany, which has stayed below 4,000 for two days running 

This graph shows the daily number of deaths. After falling to 92 yesterday, the number was back up to 173 today

This graph shows the daily number of deaths. After falling to 92 yesterday, the number was back up to 173 today 

The 3,834 new cases include 1,189 in Bavaria and 746 in Baden-Wuerttemberg, which are the two southern states closest to Italy. 

Bavaria has the largest share of cases with 26,163 in total, including more than 3,600 in the capital Munich. 

Elsewhere, the populous western state of North Rhine-Westphalia has more than 20,000 virus cases, while Berlin has nearly 4,000 with 28 deaths.  

Germany’s daily infection count was above 6,000 for three days running last week, but fell for three days in a row before remaining below 4,000 today.  

The percentage growth in new infections has also been declining, from 21.0 per cent on March 24 to only 4.0 per cent in the last two days. 

Infectious diseases chief Lothar Wieler sounded a cautious note today, saying Germany would have to ‘wait a few days to see if there is a trend’. 

He also revealed that 33,000 people have recovered from the disease in Germany, calling it an ‘encouraging number’. 

A leaked document from Germany’s interior ministry has already laid out plans for lifting the lockdown, although Angela Merkel says it is too early to set a date. 

The document says restrictions could be eased if the rate of contagion is below 1.0, meaning that each patient is infecting less than one other person on average. 

If that is achieved, children could return to school on a regional basis, and restaurants could re-open with a limited number of customers. 

Merkel said restrictions would be lifted step by step, warning that public health would always be the first consideration. 

Medical staff in protective suits and masks treat a coronavirus patient in an intensive care unit at a community hospital in Berlin yesterday

Medical staff in protective suits and masks treat a coronavirus patient in an intensive care unit at a community hospital in Berlin yesterday 

A medical worker presses a screen while wearing gloves at the Havelhoehe community hospital in Berlin yesterday

A medical worker presses a screen while wearing gloves at the Havelhoehe community hospital in Berlin yesterday

A medical worker takes a sample from a man at the Berlin hospital. Germany has carried out mass testing to contain the disease

A medical worker takes a sample from a man at the Berlin hospital. Germany has carried out mass testing to contain the disease 

The head of state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn (DB) yesterday praised customers for ‘being responsible’ by cutting their travel. 

DB president Richard Lutz said the current number of passengers was ‘about 10 to 15 per cent of its usual level’. 

In Frankfurt, the country’s biggest airport marked a 91 per cent drop in the number of passengers in the last week of March against the same period in 2019. 

Germany’s neighbour Austria yesterday became the first European country to lay out a detailed timeline for the end of the lockdown, with some shops opening next week. 

Merkel also signalled yesterday that Europe should aim for self-sufficiency in the production of masks and other critical supplies. 

Governments have struggled to supply enough equipment to their overwhelmed health systems as virus cases pile up. 

‘Regardless of the fact that this market is presently installed in Asia… we need a certain self-sufficiency, or at least a pillar of our own manufacturing’ in Germany or elsewhere in the European Union, she said. 

Merkel said the EU ‘stands before the biggest test since its founding’, amid fraught discussions over financial aid from Brussels. 

Italy, France and Spain have been imploring Germany, Austria and the Netherlands for common debt facilities to cushion the economic impact of the virus.

But frugal Germany has long been against the idea, not wanting to take on the debts of what it regards as fiscally indisciplined countries. 

Medical student Florian Schwenzer, wearing a mask, protective suit and gloves, works at a care facility underneath the north stand at Borussia Dortmund's football ground

Medical student Florian Schwenzer, wearing a mask, protective suit and gloves, works at a care facility underneath the north stand at Borussia Dortmund’s football ground 

A display board on the top of a building overlooking the River Spree in Berlin broadcasts the message to stay at home during the lockdown last night

A display board on the top of a building overlooking the River Spree in Berlin broadcasts the message to stay at home during the lockdown last night 

Merkel yesterday made no mention of the controversial common debt instruments dubbed ‘coronabonds’. 

However, Merkel reiterated her government’s stance of activating the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund. 

‘Everyone is just as affected as the other, and therefore, it is in everyone’s interest, and it is in Germany’s interest for Europe to emerge strong from this test,’ she said. 

German finance minister Olaf Scholz has said the fund could be triggered ‘with no senseless conditions’ to help struggling states. 

Merkel, 65, spent two weeks working from home after coming into contact with a doctor who later proved to be infected. The chancellor herself tested negative.

Her chief of staff yesterday played down speculation that she could postpone her retirement and run for a fifth term in 2021 because of the crisis. 

‘I don’t think this is any time to discuss something like that,’ Helge Braun said. ‘She has said that this is her last term in office and I believe nothing has changed about that.’

 

 

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