Hancock says virus in UK has peaked

Health secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday declared Britain had reached the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, vowing to start to “reopen the NHS” amid relief that the health service had not been overwhelmed.

His bullish statement was accompanied by a promise to introduce “large scale” testing of people for the virus and so-called contact tracing within weeks.

But Mr Hancock’s upbeat message was offset by Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, who said the country would have to accept “very socially disruptive” restrictions on daily life for many months to come.

He said they would be needed because the chances of developing a vaccine or effective treatment for Covid-19 “in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that”.

On a day when a further 759 deaths in hospitals were recorded across the UK, bringing the total to 18,100, Prof Whitty said it was “wholly unrealistic” to think the country could suddenly switch from lockdown to no restrictions.

“We are going to have to do quite a lot of things for quite a long period of time,” he added.

Senior Conservative MPs discussed the lockdown at a tense meeting on Wednesday, with some saying restrictions must be relaxed next month to avoid massive economic damage.

The BBC reported one Tory MP on the backbench 1922 committee executive as saying the government’s messaging on coronavirus was “ludicrous”.

Earlier Foreign secretary Dominic Raab insisted the government would hit its target of delivering 100,000 virus tests a day by the end of April.

Downing Street said the government had begun recruiting the large number of people needed to trace individuals who have been in contact with someone infected by Covid-19.

The arrangements are due to be complemented by an NHS app for smartphones that should alert people if they have been in touch with anyone who has the virus.

Mr Hancock has been under pressure over a lack of testing — 22,814 were done on Tuesday — as well as shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers and fresh questions about why the UK did not join an EU scheme to buy key medical kit.

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