THE UK's coronavirus outbreak is 'starting to slow' but deaths will keep rising, a top expert is warning.
Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College in London, who has been advising the government on the pandemic, claims to have detected "early signs" that the spread of the deadly bug is being curbed by draconian government measures.
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And he also suggested that up to three per cent of the UK – around two million people – might already have been infected with Covid-19.
Prof Ferguson's comments come after the number of people tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK yesterday rose to over 19,000 people – with the death toll standing at 1,228.
Prof Ferguson warned deaths are still likely to rise sharply as they lag two or three weeks behind the new infections.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme this morning, he said: "In the UK we can see some early signs of slowing and some indicators, less so in deaths, because deaths are lagged by a long time from when measures come in force.
"But when you look at the numbers of new hospital admissions per day for instance, that does appear to be slowing down a little bit now.
"It's not yet plateaued so the numbers can increase each day but the rate of that increase has slowed. We see similar patterns in a number of European countries at the current time."
Prof Ferguson added that the curve is slowing due to the draconian measures the government has implemented.
"It is the result of the actions people have taken and governments have taken," he said.
"And underneath look at curves of death – death is a reliable outcome but it's delayed by two or three weeks by what is actually happening and transmission.
"Underneath that there are new infections happening every day and if you look at the detail in China for instance what you see is a period of exponential growth followed by an abrupt truncation when the draconian measures were put in place."
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Prof Ferguson also added that a third of people who get coronavirus are asymptomatic – meaning they don't get any symptoms.
"We think maybe even a third, maybe even 40 per cent of people really don't get any symptoms," he said.
"It's quite variable across the country – the epidemic is in different stages in different parts of the country.
"Central London it could be as many as three to five per cent of the population has been infected, maybe more in individual hotspots.
"And in the country as a whole in the UK maybe two or three per cent."
Prof Ferguson was able to make this estimation by extrapolating from places like the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where nearly half of passengers and crew who had coronavirus were asymptomatic, and repatriation flights.
Prof Ferguson says they will only start to understand the true number of infections when they get "critical" data from antibody tests.
He said: "Critically, we're going to need data and so these antibody tests which look at whether somebody has had past infection which are being rolled out now will be critical.
"So the tests are in the final stages of validation right now they will be first used really in a systematic way to look at blood samples collected in the last few weeks in central London to look at exactly this question – what proportion of the population as a whole has been affected.
"Then as availability starts to ramp up they'll start to be used in a more kind of operational way testing healthcare workers and the things you've heard about. Hopefully they will be available in days rather than weeks."
One in four Brits could get coronavirus tests in weeks to shorten the lockdown after the government agreed a deal to buy 17.5million kits.
The finger-prick test, which detects antibodies to the virus in the blood, is able to determine if someone has or has already had Covid-19.
When a person gets infected by the virus, the body starts making specially designed proteins called antibodies to fight the infection.
However, the Government made it clear that those tests will not be available for the public to buy and they will be prioritise NHS staff and key workers – like doctors and nurses – to enable people to go back to work.
Boots and Amazon will be used to distribute tests to NHS workers and other critical workers who are self-isolating – along Government lines.
Users or pharmacists will have to prick a finger and place a drop of blood on a stick, which looks like a home pregnancy test.
Some will give an immediate result and others must be returned to a lab. Results will be recorded on medical records.
Currently, Public Health England is only testing patients for Covid-19 in hospital with nasal swabs.
This test only shows whether someone has the virus – and not whether they have already recovered from it.
However, the new at-home test would reveal if someone has had the bug and built up immunity, and is therefore unlikely to catch it again.
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