When will coronavirus peak in the UK?  

Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, said the number of infections could fall within two to three weeks

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While scientists speculate that the coronavirus could be with us for months to come, Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, has said cases could peak over Easter and then begin to fall if the public follows social distancing measures.

On March 23 Boris Johnson placed the country on lockdown, meaning you must only leave you home for:

  1. Shopping for necessities
  2. To exercise once a day 
  3. Medical need or providing care
  4. Travelling to or from work (if you can't work from home)

Bringing in emergency legislation to enforce a three-week lockdown, Mr Johnson ordered shops, pubs, restaurants and theatres to close, as well as banning mass gatherings, closing schools, postponing and cancelling sporting events.

But the worst is almost certainly still to come in terms of the UK's peak number of cases.

So when is the peak and how long until the virus is stopped?

When will the virus peak in the UK?

Dr Harries has said they hope the peak will be reached in “two to three weeks” time. She made the comments during a live Q&A on Mumsnet, a web forum for parents, on March 25.

She said: “What we hope is that in about two to three weeks, if people have continued to do as we have asked, and cut down their social interactions, we would start to see a change in the slope of the graph. 

“That means the peak will be pushed forward, but the height of it will be lower and we can manage all those who need hospital and health care safely through our NHS.”

Previously, Professor Chris Whitty, England's Chief Medical Officer, said on March 12 that he expects the UK would reach the peak of its coronavirus outbreak in about 10 to 14 weeks. That timeframe would mean that the number of infections would not peak before the Easter break, but could hit the UK hardest in the May half-term holidays. 

“If you move too early, people get fatigued,” he said, when asked about how to respond effectively to the virus. “This is a long haul.”

The Department of Health has advised that the peak is likely in about three months when 95 per cent of the infections are expected to take place. It means that most people will contract the virus between late May and late June.

The Prime Minister said last week that the most "dangerous period is not now, but some weeks away, depending on how fast it spreads". 

Experts hope that the UK's response will push the peak beyond the normal end of the flu season in April and into the summer, when the NHS will be under less strain.

Why is the peak predicted then?

Modelling by the Government and Public Health England suggests that there will be a slow growth of new cases each day – as has been the case in recent weeks – before the number of infections is expected to leap. This is at least partly because the virus is highly infectious and it is possible to be infected without presenting symptoms, which makes it hard to detect and control the spread.

It could also depend on seasonality. Britain will lie at the centre of a coronavirus danger zone throughout March and April, scientists believe.

If temperatures and humidity follow a similar pattern to last year, the UK climate will create the perfect breeding ground for the virus, according to a new study.

Weather records of where the virus has been spreading rapidly show similar average temperatures of between five to 11 degrees Celsius and humidity of 47 to 79 per cent, which is similar to laboratory conditions in which coronavirus thrives.

However as warmer temperatures emerge it could die out or be pushed into winter in the southern hemisphere. 

Will the 'delay' phase work?

The British government is now at the "delay" phase of its virus response, which means that the possibility of containing the virus has passed and now steps must be taken to delay the peak.

An assumption is that the UK is about two weeks behind Italy, which now has the highest worldwide death toll from the coronavirus. Mathematical modelling has shown Britain’s numbers almost exactly mirror Italy’s in terms of Covid-19 cases and deaths. 

Like Italy, Boris Johnson announced on March 18 that all schools in the UK would close from March 20. On March 24, he went further and placed the UK on a complete lockdown for three weeks, banning people from leaving their homes or meeting in groups of more than two people.

The death-rate from coronavirus in Italy showed its first decline in several days on March 21, signalling hopes that the Italian lockdown could be starting to take effect.

How to prepare and what to expect

It is vital, in order to stop the spread of the virus, to stay home and not mix with people outside of your household. 

Social distancing applies to everyone, even if you are not displaying any symptoms. You should not be meeting up with friends and family or going to work if you can work from home. When out in public, you must maintain a distance of two metres from others.

The single most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to keep your hands clean by washing them frequently with soap and water or a hand sanitising gel. 

Try to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands – something we all do unconsciously on average about 15 times an hour.

Other tips include:

  • Carry a hand sanitiser with you to make frequent cleaning of your hands easy

  • Always wash your hands before you eat or touch your face

  • Be especially careful about touching things and then touching your face in busy airports and other public transport systems

  • Carry disposable tissues with you, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue carefully (catch it, bin it, kill it)

  • Do not share snacks from packets or bowls that others are dipping their fingers into

  • Avoid shaking hands or cheek kissing if you suspect viruses are circulating

  • Regularly clean not only your hands but also commonly used surfaces and devices you touch or handle