Coronavirus lockdown rules could be relaxed in weeks if rules are followed

A near empty Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, the day after Boris Jo

A near empty Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, the day after Boris Johnson put the UK in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

The coronavirus lockdown rules could be relaxed in weeks if the rules are followed and the number of infections start to fall.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, told BBC Radio 4 that while the epidemic was expected to plateau in the next week to 10 days, people's behaviour was critical to determining what happens next.

He said he was 'hopeful' that some of the intense social distancing measures could be substituted with rapid access to testing and contact tracing in a few weeks' time - once case numbers are lower.

'We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May that we're able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now,' he explained.

Ferguson said that fresh data had recorded an 85% drop in movement of people outside their household, suggesting most people were following the government guidance.

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Scientists expect there to be a peak in coronavirus cases in 10 days, before the number of infections should start to plateau.

'Clearly we want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May we can substitute less intensive measures for the current lockdown we have now...

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'I don't think anyone wants to lift measures at the current time and risk the epidemic getting worse... but if we see a rapid decline in cases, then of course the government will consider if they can relax those measures and modify certain measures in a way which is safe and still ensures the epidemic goes down.'

Asked what would happen if people flout the social distancing rules this weekend, Prof Ferguson said: 'That moves us to a slightly more pessimistic scenario.

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'We still think things will plateau but we'll be at quite high levels of infection for weeks and weeks rather than seeing quite a rapid decline as the type seen in China.'

But a pandemic modeller advising the government suggested the lockdown may have to last for some considerable time to help the government buy some time to avoid a 'herd immunity' scenario.

Professor Graham Medley told The Times: 'This disease is so nasty that we had to suppress it completely. Then we've kind of painted ourselves into a corner, because then the question will be, what do we do now?

'We will have done three weeks of this lockdown, so there's a big decision coming up on April 13. In broad terms are we going to continue to harm children to protect vulnerable people, or not?'

Prof Medley added: 'If we carry on with lockdown, it buys us more time, we can get more thought put into it, but it doesn't resolve anything, it's a placeholder.'

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