The coronavirus growth rate is slowing in the UK and the number of infections are starting to level off in some areas, a top scientist has said.
Prof Neil Ferguson told the BBC that in some NHS regions there is a “sign of plateauing” in cases and hospital admissions.
But he warned the overall death toll would exceed 100,000.
It has taken the total number of deaths by that measure to 84,767. There were also 47,525 new cases.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the national lockdown measures were “starting to show signs of some effect”, but it was early days and urged people to abide by the rules.
Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London whose modelling led to the first lockdown in March, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was “much too early” to say when the number of cases would come down.
He said: “It looks like in London in particular and a couple of other regions in the South East and East of England, hospital admissions may even have plateaued, though it is hard to tell if they are coming down.
“It has to be said this is not seen everywhere – both case numbers and hospital admissions are going up in many other areas, but overall at a national level we are seeing the rate of growth slow.”
Prof Ferguson added that it would take longer for the number of daily hospital admissions to start coming down and “even longer” for hospital bed occupancy to come down.
He said: “I would hope the hospital admissions might plateau… sometime in the next week, but hospital bed occupancy may continue to rise slowly for up to two weeks.”
Prof Ferguson warned the overall death toll would be “well over 100,000”, adding “there’s nothing we can do about that now”.
Past infection was linked to an 83% lower risk of getting the virus, compared with those who had never had Covid-19, scientists found.
Prof Susan Hopkins, who led the study, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while the findings were “great news”, it “doesn’t eliminate” the risk of people catching Covid-19 again, and infecting others.
She said: “We found people with very high amounts of virus in their nose and throat swabs, that would easily be in the range which would cause levels of transmission to other individuals. Therefore, we’re reassuring people that it’s good news but asking them to still follow the rules.”
Prof Hopkins added the rules were in place “because of the seriousness to the NHS” and said “we are going to have going to have a difficult time at least until Easter”.
She said she hoped that after Easter, “we will start to see reduced infection rates, as we did at that time last year” and the number of people who have been vaccinated at a “very high level”.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Scottish First Minister John Swinney told BBC Breakfast “the virus is not accelerating as fast as it was” in Scotland.
He said “there are some early signs of optimism” but emphasised people should follow all guidance as the “virus is still at a very strong level”.
Mr Swinney said “for about 10 days after boxing day the virus galloped through Scotland” but now it is “not seeing that rate of increase being sustained”.
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