UK epidemic is slowing; antibody test could soon be ready - advisers

LONDON (Reuters) - The coronavirus epidemic in the United Kingdom is showing signs of slowing and antibody tests could be ready in days, Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Contractors, members of 1 Royal Anglian Regiment and members of the Queen's Gurkha Engineer Regiment help to build the new NHS Nightingale Hospital to fight against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, March 27, 2020. Picture taken March 27, 2020. Andrew Parsons/UK Ministry of Defence/Crown copyright 2013/Handout via REUTERS.

“We think the epidemic is just about slowing in the UK right now,” Ferguson told BBC radio.

Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, also said there were signs that locking down the country a week ago had slowed the rate of transmission of the virus. He said Britain was not in a “fast acceleration” phase.

Official data on Monday showed 1,408 patients in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) had died so far and there were 22,141 positive cases.

Britain initially took a modest approach to containing the spread of the disease compared with European countries such as Italy.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million people could die. Johnson has since become the first leader of a major power to announce a positive test result for coronavirus.

Vallance said on Monday the restrictions - which have seen public transport use fall to less than a quarter of normal levels - were already having a “big effect” on the transmission of the virus.

This in turn would to lead to fewer people being admitted to hospital, he said, and ultimately reduce the total fatality figure.

Hospital admissions had already stabilized at about 1,000 per day, he said.

“It’s quite important - it tells you that actually this is a bit more stable than it has been,” he said, adding that the country was tracking France rather than the worse-hit Italy and Spain.

He said it would take another 2 to 3 weeks to determine the extent of the slowdown in the spread of the virus because of the lag between the rate of transmission and that of hospital admissions.

Ferguson said a third or even 40% of people do not get any symptoms and thought perhaps 2% to 3% of Britain’s population had been infected.

But Ferguson cautioned that the data was not good enough to make firm extrapolations.

He said antibody tests were in the final stage of validation and could hopefully be ready in “days rather than weeks”.

Editing by Stephen Addison