London, Apr 22 (efe-epa).- The United Kingdom is “at the peak” of its coronavirus outbreak, health minister Matt Hancock said Wednesday but warned it was too early to lift social distancing measures.
Hancock addressed the House of Commons in its first electronic session after parliament was suspended on 25 March.
The session was also attended in person by several ministers, including Keir Starmer who made his first appearance as leader of the opposition Labour party.
There have been fluctuations in the number of Covid-19 deaths in the country, with the rate rising on Tuesday after a previous drop.
Hancock thanked the British public for observing social distancing measures and added: “It is making a difference we are at the peak.”
He said social distancing restrictions will not be lifted until conditions set by the government are met, which include that the NHS can cope with the pandemic, a sustained drop in the daily morality rate and the number of new infections falling to manageable levels.
UK authorities imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 23 and this was later extended until at least 7 May.
There has been criticism of the government over a lack of testing, especially for medical staff.
Hancock said demand for testing had been “lower than expected”.
“We are ramping up our testing capacity and our capacity for contact-tracing in a matter of weeks, and we’ll have it ready to make sure that we can use that as and when the incidence of transmission comes down,” he added.
The government would also have to provide adequate amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health sector workers before relaxing the lockdown, something it has been criticised for failing to do.
Hancock said authorities were “actively engaged with over 1,000 companies who buy PPE from abroad and working with 159 potential UK manufacturers”.
The UK’s Covid-19 death rates may be around 20 per cent higher than those reported daily by officials, which only include fatalities that occurred in hospitals and not in care homes or private residences.
There were 759 deaths reported in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 18,100, according to Wednesday’s official figures.
Analysis in the Financial Times newspaper, which combines this data with the most complete figures provided by the Office for National Statistics, estimated the number of coronavirus deaths in the UK could be around 41,000. EFE-EPA