Coronavirus: The four factors that will decide when the UK's lockdown can end

Coronavirus: The four factors that will decide when the UK's lockdown can end

4/7/2020 5:07:00 PM

Coronavirus: The four factors that will decide when the UK's lockdown can end

A slowing admissions rate suggests the rules are helping, but death rates from some regions are rising.

Most testing has been confined to hospitals and as the government expands the number of tests it carries out each day, we can expect confirmed cases to rise.Professor Sheila Bird from Cambridge University says this is one reason why the government should be clear about the day samples were taken and how many positive results are recorded for patients versus NHS workers, for example.

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Over the last two weeks, the percentage of positive tests has also increased, from 17% when lockdown began to 48% on Sunday.This doesn't necessarily mean the infection rate is rising. Medical staff might now have a better idea about who needs a test.

Image:Police speak to a couple on the embankment in central London during the lockdownInfection rateIndeed, there is some evidence social distancing is having the desired effect and slowing the infection rate.Scientists at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at the average number of contacts each person had before and after lockdown and concluded that, for every four people we met before 23 March, we are now meeting just one.

Their modelling, quoted in the government's daily news conferences, suggests this could reduce the infection rate by 75%.'Nobody likes a lockdown'Hospital admissionsWhile these findings are positive, they are also based on predictions about the impact of people's behaviour and not the available reported data.

There are signs of hope, though, in the number of people admitted to hospital with a COVID-19 diagnosis.The rate of admissions in England has been slowing for several days and provides the most consistent trend in the four measures considered here.However, these rates of admission also reveal how the outbreak is at different stages in different parts of the country.

London, which has been ahead of other regions in terms of deaths and cases for some weeks, is now seeing fewer hospital admissions. People in the capital will hope this recent trend is a sign of progress.In recent days, admissions in the Midlands have been up by 47%, in the North East and Yorkshire by 35% and in the North West by 25%.

The death figures in these regions also suggest a worsening situation, with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust now recording more deaths than any of other in England, including London.Race for the Vaccine: The drug that could save millionsSo, when will we know if the lockdown is working?

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As ministers are fond of saying, patience is required but the best measure to monitor is probably hospital admissions.Like the UK, it was admissions that fell first in Italy, which locked down on 8 March - two weeks before the UK.Subsequently, this past weekend, Italy recorded its lowest daily increase in deaths for a fortnight.

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