Patrick Vallance says keeping coronavirus death toll below 20,000 would be 'good outcome'
Patrick Vallance said he was pushing hard to extra testing
The government's Chief Scientific Adviser has said keeping the coronavirus death toll in the UK to less than 20,000 would be "a good outcome".
Patrick Vallance also said it was a "reasonable ball park" estimate that 55,000 people in the country now have the illness.
He was speaking as it was confirmed that the number of confirmed cases soared in the UK had spared by 407 in 24 hours to 1,950.
Appearing before the Health Select Committee, Sir Patrick said he hoped new measures announced by Boris Johnson, including an end to all "non-essential social contact" and self-isolating the vulnerable, would reduce the death toll from the hundreds of thousands.
"To put it in perspective, every year in seasonal flu the number of deaths is thought to be about 8000 excess deaths," he said.
"So if we can get this down to numbers of 20,000 and below that is a good outcome in terms of where we hope to get to with this outbreak, but I mean it is still horrible.
"That is still an enormous amount of deaths and it is an enormous pressure on the health service. And having spent 20 years as an NHS consultant as well as an academic, I know exactly what that looks and feels like."
The senior adviser also said he was pushing "very hard" for a major increase in the number of tests being carried out after NHS staff raised fears that even frontline health workers were being denied screening.
"We need to ramp up testing for all the reasons you have mentioned. There are two things which are critical, ramping up testing and making sure we have great data flows," he said.
"I think we need a big increase in testing and that’s what I’m pushing for very hard. And everyone’s working very hard to make that happen."
Meanwhile, Sir Patrick said he hoped community-based tests could be introduced quickly in an effort to stop people with the virus showing up at hospitals for testing.
His comments come ahead of an expected major announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help provide financial support to businesses facing collapse as the outbreak continues.
But Sir Patrick said it was likely social distancing measures, including avoiding pubs, clubs, theatres and other social gatherings were likely to remain in place for months in order to avoid a resurgence of cases.
He told MPs: "I don't know how long these measures are going to be needed for.
"The modelling so far suggests its certainly not a couple of weeks.
"When you look at the measures, the assumption that you can close things for a couple of weeks and then open them up again is not correct."
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