MINISTERS will not think of lifting the lockdown until UK coronavirus deaths start to fall — with peak fatalities still three weeks away.
Their first expected move “is most likely the re-opening of schools so parents are able to go back to work”, government sources revealed.
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Officials believe new Covid-19 infections will peak on Easter Sunday and the NHS is braced for a “tsunami” of cases this weekend.
Scientists modelling the outbreak think tough social distancing measures have slowed the spread of the bug.
Officials claim infected people are likely to pass the virus on to 0.6 others — compared with 2.6 with no restrictions applied.
Hospital admissions are now predicted to start falling in around a fortnight, if Brits continue to stay at home.
And deaths are expected to stop rising by the end of April, allowing ministers to start looking at an exit strategy.
A Government source said: “They will only consider easing measures once deaths start to go down. We think that is three weeks away.”
That comes as daily coronavirus deaths dipped slightly today to hit 881 — down from 938 reported on Wednesday.
The rise takes the total lives lost in the outbreak so far to 7,978.
And official data shows 4,344 tested positive for the bug yesterday, with numbers staying level in recent days.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing, Sir Patrick Vallance said UK cases were starting to “flatten off”.
The chief scientific adviser said sticking to the lockdown has made a “big difference”.
He added: “We know social distancing is working and we know that people are doing what they’re supposed to do and we need to keep doing that.
“And the reason we need to keep doing that is because it stops the transmission of the virus in the community.
“I would expect the deaths to continue to keep going up for about two weeks after the intensive care picture improves.”
Cancer expert Professor Karol Sikora, a former government adviser and World Health Organisation executive, warned: “This weekend will be the worst for the NHS since 1948, but don’t be discouraged — the lockdown measures are working.”
New hospital cases are continuing to double every six days.
Hospital bosses have now resorted to calling up vets to the coronavirus front line, with one NHS Trust hiring 150 to fill staff gaps.
Meanwhile medical bosses are worried heart attack victims are putting their lives at risk by avoiding A&E.
Official data shows that the number of potential sufferers seen by medics has halved over a month.
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