Former UK medical chief warns Italy still ‘away from peak’ of coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus has already killed 1,441 people in Italy with 17,750 active cases of COVID-19 so far. But Sir Mark Walport told Sky’s Sophy Ridge he believes the peak of the deadly virus outbreak is yet to be reached. The Chief executive of UK Research and Innovation warned: “It’s always easy to predict the past than the future, but this is a spreading infection.

“It will continue to spread, there will be more cases in the UK and around the world.”

Asked if he believed that even Italy was “still away from the peak”, he replied: “I think that’s right.

“And the other thing to say is that if you isolate everyone, then it’s a bit like putting out a fire.

“If you deprive it from oxygen then the flame will go down, but if you have any embers left in that fire, the second the oxygen comes back you’ll get an outbreak again.

“So it’s this balance between trying to smooth it or damping it down with the risk that it’ll come back.”

Sir Mark also claimed the UK is several months away from a vaccine. 

He said: “Vaccines are being developed at a very fast rate so there are a number of candidates: large companies, small companies, universities all working.

“The challenge here is to make sure the vaccine is safe and it works, and unfortunately, that takes a period of time to do so realistically.

“It’s very unlikely that we are going to have a vaccine for the present round of this epidemic.

“We are talking months, up to a year.”

Sir Mark added it was “quite likely” that a large percentage of the population would get coronavirus, but many would be mild or sub-clinical.

Elderly people will be asked to self-isolate for up to four months, as the UK escalates its fight against coronavirus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it is a “very big ask”, but it is a measure which is for their own “self-protection”.

In an acknowledgement of the almost wartime measures being introduced, Mr Hancock said the steps are “very, very significant and they will disrupt the ordinary lives of almost everybody in the country”.

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The gearing up of the Government’s efforts comes as the UK’s Covid-19 death toll rose on Saturday from 11 to 21, while the number of people testing positive for the disease passed the 1,000 mark.

Mr Hancock said that people aged over 70 will be asked in the coming weeks to self-isolate for up to four months, in order to protect them from the virus.

Asked if that was in the Government’s plan, he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “That is in the action plan, yes, and we will be setting it out with more detail when it is the right time to do so, because we absolutely appreciate that it is a very big ask of the elderly and the vulnerable, and it’s for their own self-protection.”

Pressed on when the measure will be introduced, he said: “Certainly in the coming weeks, absolutely.”

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