Boris Johnson has promised he will set out a “road map” for easing lockdown restrictions next week, after saying the UK has passed the peak of coronavirus infections.
Members of the public have called for a cautious approach to easing the lockdown, with a third of people saying it should not happen until there has been a substantial fall in daily deaths, according to a YouGov survey.
A further 37% said it should not be eased until even tougher targets had been met, including until there were no new reported cases, antibody tests easily available, or until a vaccine is available.
The government has its own tests for easing the lockdown – but has it met them?
Test One: The NHS has the capacity to provide critical care right across the UK
Firstly, the government will look at whether there is the capacity to care for seriously ill coronavirus patients.
This can be measured by the number of spare beds in intensive care.
The NHS has managed to roughly double its ICU capacity in its pre-existing hospitals to 1,555.
Hospitals have not been overwhelmed by patients so far, and there has also been the addition of NHS Nightingale hospitals in some parts of the country, which are designed as overspill facilities.
The Nightingale Hospitals have the capacity to treat thousands of COVID-19 sufferers, but so far reports suggest they have admitted few patients – something taken by many as a win.
However, there has been some criticism that the increased capacity to treat coronavirus patients has come at the expense of other care, including cancer treatments.
In spite of this, this test appears to have been met.
Test Two: A sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from coronavirus
The number of daily deaths – though closely watched – is likely to be the last to show improvement.
This is because the delay between someone becoming infected and either recovering or dying can be around three to four weeks.
It is estimated that England’s daily hospital death toll peaked around 8 April and has been steadily falling since.
On Monday, the UK reported 350 deaths with coronavirus in hospitals. Although figures do tend to drop on Mondays because of a weekend lag, this was much lower than on previous Mondays.
The picture has become less clear now that deaths in the community are included, and there are some suggestions care homes could become the new epicentres of transmission.
It seems more data is needed to be clear whether this test has been met.
Test Three: The rate of infection decreased to manageable levels across the board
The infection rate, or “R” value, means the number of people that each person who contracts the virus ends up infecting.
The R is currently thought to be somewhere between 0.6 and 0.9.
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus has been steadily decreasing, although it is accepted that the true number of cases is likely to be much higher than the reported amount.
This is due to the amount of testing, which is currently aimed at key workers and those seriously ill in hospital.
Another way of finding out if infection rate might be down is looking at the number of hospital admissions.
England’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “The number of new cases is down, that’s turning into fewer admissions, fewer people in hospital, fewer people in intensive care and we’re beginning to see that decrease in deaths.”
It is likely the rate of infection has decreased satisfactorily, but Sir Patrick said the number of people admitted to hospital still needs to decrease.
Test Four: Operational challenges including testing and PPE are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand
The government is close to hitting its target of testing 100,000 people a day, which it had set for the end of April.
Figures show 81,611 tests were carried out on Wednesday, though due to a time lag in reporting it is not yet clear whether the target was met.
Work has also started on a contract tracing app which will alert people if they have come into close contact with someone with symptoms, but this is not expected to be rolled out until next week.
More than a billion items of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been distributed, but there are still concerns among health care workers about shortages.
There may be challenges in sourcing PPE for some time, as numerous countries are trying to obtain equipment.
So far, it looks like this test has not been met.
Test Five: Confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that overwhelms the NHS
The prime minister has stressed that in order to “avoid disaster”, the fifth test means the R value should not raise above one.
Boris Johnson said he would not risk a second peak by relaxing restrictions too quickly, but did say the public will soon be told when certain lockdown measures can be relaxed, based on a series of options raised by the government’s scientific advisers.
Downing Street was forced to deny it had relaxed the fifth test, as the rule had initially stated “confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections”.
It was later amended to add that the peak of infections should not “overwhelm the NHS”.
Number 10 said the wording had simply been revised to match the words of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on 16 April.
We currently don’t know for sure what these relaxation measures will be, so it is difficult to judge whether this test has been met.