A leading professor has said social distancing measures during the coronavirus lockdown are “working better than first predicted”.
On Thursday, Dominic Raab said lockdown measures, in force since 23 March, would not come to an end soon, saying a reduction in case admissions would need to be seen before relaxing restrictions.
But as the government urged people to resist the urge to break social distancing rules over Easter weekend, expert advisors say they had seen a reduction in social contact.
Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College in London first penned a report suggesting 250,000 people would die if social distancing rules were not enforced.
But on Friday, he said there had been “early signs of improvement”, telling BBC Radio 4: “We made quite conservative assumptions about the level of contact reduction these measures would result in.
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“There is some preliminary evidence in terms of contact surveys, in terms of data from companies like Google about how people move, that we have seen even larger reductions in normal behaviour, contact, than we would have dared hope.
“That is good news but we have still got to see that reflected in case numbers coming down.”
Ferguson suggested that when the time came the restrictions could be eased in stages - but said more testing would be needed to ensure the virus was kept in check.
“Without doubt measures will be targeted, probably by age, by geography, and we will need to introduce – in my view – much larger levels of testing at a community level to really be able to isolate cases and more effectively identify where transmission has happened,” he said.
Also speaking on the programme, Professor Paul Cosford, Public Health England’s director for health protection, suggested one of the first measures could be to allow schools to re-open.
He said: “We do know that children are at very low risk of getting complications from this disease. The importance of children’s education, children being in school, is paramount,”
“I could conceive of circumstances in which some of the restrictions are lifted sooner and some are lifted later.”
“Just for now, we are getting on top of this but we have got an awfully long way to go and it is absolutely critical that we continue with all the actions that are required of us.”
The UK restrictions face their toughest test so far over the Easter weekend, with temperatures in some parts of the country set to reach 25C (77F).
On Thursday, Downing Street assured tougher lockdown measures won’t be enforced - but urged the public to continue to follow advice.
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said on Thursday that the government’s focus remains on ensuring people abide by the measures that are “already in place”.
But while promising the measures won’t be toughened, the spokesman made clear individual forces will be free to use “discretion” as to how restrictions are policed.
On Friday, Northamptonshire Police Chief Constable Nick Adderley rowed back on threats that officers would be checking supermarket trolleys to ensure lockdown rules were being followed.
But officers in a neighbouring Cambridgeshire have been patrolling ‘non-essential’ aisles.