'There are green shoots': UK government says there's cautious optimism over new coronavirus cases

A senior NHS figure has said that “green shoots” are appearing in the battle against coronavirus as he warned the British public “not to take their foot off the pedal”.

NHS England national medical director Dr Stephen Powis said during the government’s daily press conference on Tuesday that infection rate figures show people are “paying attention” to the government’s message.

Dr Powis pointed to the number of people using transport services, saying the figures had "reduced dramatically" in the past few weeks.

Dr Powis’s warnings were echoed by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove who said there were signs the rate of infection is being flattened. But, he added: “Now is absolutely not the time for people to imagine there can be any relaxation or slackening” of lockdown measures.

He said the fact that the infection rate was not rising as quickly as it had on some days in the past month showed that the government’s extreme lockdown measures were working.

National Medical Director at NHS England Stephen Powis (left), Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries (right) answering questions from the media at Downing Street. (PA)

"We have had a rise in the number of UK cases, but recently we have had a bit of a plateau," Dr Powis said.

“It’s really important not to read too much into this.

"It's early days, we're not out of the woods - we're very much in the woods - but it's very important we keep complying with those instructions."

“As you can see the number of infections is not rising as rapidly as it once was. So green shoots, but only green shoots and we must not be complacent, and we must not take our foot off the pedal.”

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The government is bracing for even more cases and deaths in the coming days. (Getty)

Professor Powis said that the rate of hospitalisation of cases for Covid-19 was still increasing, as was expected at this stage of the epidemic.

However, he said that if the number of infections started to drop, then in the next few weeks the “hope” was that the number of hospitalisations would also begin to fall.

Asked whether we should be more confident about how coronavirus is progressing in the UK, Mr Powis added: “So I honestly think it’s too early to tell at the moment and I very specifically used the term because they are just green shoots, and winter could come and those green shoots could turn out to be not the hopeful green shots that they thought they might be.

“But I think the next week or two will be critical as we move through.”

“You have to keep your foot on the pedal as I said, no complacency. I want to encourage the public that they are playing their part but I don’t want to give the message that we need to do anything other than maintain our compliance with the instructions – everybody needs to do that.”

A total of 1,789 patients have now died overall in UK hospitals as of 5pm on Monday, the Department of Health said, up by 381 from 1,408 the day before.

The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK now stands at 25,150, as of 9am March 31.

Earlier this week Boris Johnson warned that the coronavirus crisis will get worse before it gets better, in a letter he sent to every UK household.

Mr Johnson, who is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19, says stricter restrictions could be put in place if necessary.

In the letter being sent to 30 million households, Mr Johnson wrote: "From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time.

"We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do."