Our social distancing is working, says Sir Patrick Vallance

Yesterday Owl broke this news, having been primed by Owl’s knowledgeable friend that something encouraging was appearing in the data. These are early days, given the lag that is inevitable between taking action to impose social restrictions and seeing the effects, when the incubation period is thought to be between 7 to 14 days.

Owl’s post gave a link to the Public Health England Covid-19 dashboard. Covid-19 confirmed cases across the UK appear to be stabilising at around 2.5k cases a day, the data doesn’t now show daily rates doubling every three or four days. Caveats apply and are listed in the previous post.

These numbers are high (we only test the most serious cases) and the coming days will show whether they start to accelerate again or start to do what we all hope – reduce. Not until then will we have the infection under some form of control.

Francis Elliott, Political Editor | Tom Knowles, Technolog Correspondent | Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor www.thetimes.co.uk

Britain may be starting gradually to bring the coronavirus outbreak under control because residents are doing a “good job” of social distancing, the government’s chief scientific adviser said yesterday.

Sir Patrick Vallance said that hospital admissions were increasing by a stable amount each day, with the NHS coping as numbers stopped accelerating. He warned that deaths would continue to rise and that it was vital for Britain to stay in lockdown until it was clear that intensive care would not be overwhelmed.

He expressed cautious optimism that “dramatic” reductions in travel and contact could be decreasing the number of new cases and putting the country on course to halt the epidemic.

“The measures are in place. They are making a difference, they are decreasing the contact which is so important to spread the disease and we’re doing a good job at cutting that down,” he told a press conference yesterday. “The stay at home message will be reducing the number of cases of transmission in the community and decreasing the number of cases overall.”

Road traffic is approaching a quarter of its normal volume and the number using buses and trains has fallen even further, according his presentation. Data from Transport for London shows a dramatic fall-off to “just a few per cent” of the total number of commuters using the Tube at the end of February.

As well as transport there were dramatic reductions in footfall on high streets, he said. The closure of pubs and restaurants had helped to reduce contact between people, which was predicted to have “a very significant effect” on the rate of transmission.

More than 9,000 patients are being treated in hospital for coronavirus, a jump of 50 per cent over the weekend, but Sir Patrick said it was “quite important” that numbers did not appear to be accelerating.

They were increasing “pretty much the same amount each day for the past few days”, with about 1,000 new daily admissions. “It is a number that NHS staff are clearly coping with in terms of what they are doing at the moment.”

He said this data demonstrated “that actually this is a bit more stable than it has been. I expect people coming every day to be about that — it may go up a little bit. And in two or three weeks you would expect that to stabilise and to start to go down a bit.”

Yesterday 180 coronavirus deaths were reported, down from 260 on Saturday. Sir Patrick said Britain was “tracking roughly along the same path as France” in terms of deaths and slightly behind Italy, which had almost 2,000 deaths at the same stage of its outbreak.

A total of 1,408 patients have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Britain as of 5pm on Sunday and the total number of cases was 22,141. Before Britain’s lockdown a week ago each infected person was passing the virus on to two or three others, leading to exponential increases. The key aim of social distancing is to get this figure below one, at which point the outbreak would start to peter out.

The government’s scientific advisers previously said that compliance with isolation and distancing rules needed to be 75 per cent to be effective.

Boris Johnson’s decision to impose a stricter lockdown a week ago was justified in part because ministers had been told that the target was being missed. Downing Street has so far resisted presenting the data it used to make that judgment. Officials say that some of the information used is commercially sensitive and is not suitable for inclusion in government-backed data.

Tech firms including Google are set to pass on smartphone data to the government to help them monitor how well people are complying with social-distancing rules. The company is in discussions about supplying anonymised information that shows the extent to which people are still congregating in public areas such as parks.

Google’s Maps app is used by a billion people around the world every month and most people’s phones constantly report their locations and movement back to Google’s servers. The company has yet to hand over any information but had discussed with the government how it would work.

A Google spokeswoman added that the company had been looking at ways to determine the impact of social distancing with its data, “similar to the way we show popular restaurant times and traffic patterns in Google Maps.” It said that any information it supplied would be aggregated and anonymised.

Analysis of smartphone data is one of several measures the government is hoping to use to assess compliance with social distancing rules. BT has also revealed that it is providing anonymous records of mobile data from its users to health officials to help show “generalised patterns in the movement of people to assist with policy planning”.

The mobile phone network provider O2 confirmed last week that it had been in discussions with the government about using its mobile technology to create a model that predicts how the virus might move around the country

Technology to monitor the virus is seen as crucial to helping normal life resume once the lockdown is eased.

A week ago Mr Johnson ordered Britons not to leave their homes except for essential shopping, exercise once a day, medical care and work that could not be done from home.