The UK will not be “back to normal’ for six months or longer, one of the government’s top medical advisors has warned.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries told a Downing Street press conference that it could be six months or longer before the country gets back to normal from the coronavirus pandemic.
She said that the Coronavirus lockdown measures will be reviewed every three weeks going forward.
Dr Harries said that the lockdown could last “between three to six months” but warned it was “plausible that it could go longer than that”.
The announcement came after Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the length of the lockdown is not fixed but depends on the behaviour of the public.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Mr Gove refused to give a time limit for the virus lockdown.
Dr Jenny Harries said that people should not be viewing the crisis as something that will blow over within weeks.
She said it will not be clear whether the social distancing measures are working for another two or three weeks – with deaths set to rise further.
But even if it does, reverting to a “normal way of life” immediately would probably lead to a disastrous new peak in infections, she said.
“If we stop too soon then all of our efforts would be wasted,” she added.
Dr Harries also defended the accuracy of the government’s death stats after one London hospital said it believed the situation was worse than the national picture suggested.
She said: “Every death that we have is a really sad event it involves a family and a lot of sadness.
“We have to make sure that when we’re reporting the family is content and knows and all our data is absolutely accurate.”
She added: “There is is always a time lag for us to check and evaluate that the data across the system is linked.
“We do not want to be misreporting data and then having to correct it.
“The public would not have confidence if we were doing that.
“As we have sadly had to register more deaths, that time period takes longer. “
Boris Johnson had said that the UK could “turn the tide” on the outbreak within ’12 weeks’.
But Dr Harries comments make it plain that Britain is likely in this situation for some time.
The official UK coronavirus death toll rose by 209 in 24 hours from 1,019 to 1,228 today.
On Sunday morning, Mr Gove told Sky News: “There are different projections as to how long the lockdown might last. But it’s not the case that the length of the lockdown is something that is absolutely fixed.
“It depends on all of our behaviour. If we follow the guidelines, we can deal more effectively with the spread of the disease.”
Mr Gove also said the government will implement stronger rules if needed.
He said current government rules are being led by the scientific models plotting the spread of the virus and said it would not help preparations to pre-empt them before we need to.
Mr Gove later said the public must prepare for “a significant period” of lockdown while talking to Andrew Marr.
“In other words, the one thing we know is that you need to reduce the number of people that one infected person infects on average, which is about three, for this virus, we think, down to below one. And the only way you do that is by separating people.”
Disease expert Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, has said lockdown measures could stay in place until June in order to gain control of the virus.
Prof Ferguson told the Sunday Times: “We’re going to have to keep these measures [the full lockdown}in place, in my view, for a significant period of time – probably until the end of May, maybe even early June. May is optimistic.”