Phil Day By Superintendent Pharmacist Published:

Following the Prime Minister’s briefing on Sunday 10th May, the UK has outlined its first steps towards easing out of lockdown. There is an initial timetable in place, which the government will review and assess daily to help ensure that we do our best to avoid a second peak of coronavirus infections.

As there’s a lot of information to digest, we want to continue helping our patients by answering some of their most frequently asked questions, in this ongoing series of articles. 

What is the Government’s strategy to end lockdown?

In his national address, Boris Johnson has outlined the next phase in the UK’s coronavirus response.

The main development is the launch of a new coronavirus alert system which will be used to help the Government decide by how much and when the lockdown can be eased. 

He stressed that the plan for bringing the nation out of lockdown is conditional and would be dependent on:

  1. Ensuring the NHS can provide sufficient critical care capacity across the UK.
  2. A sustained fall in the daily number of COVID-19 related deaths.
  3. The rate of infection (R number) continues to decrease.
  4. Enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing being available for those that need it.
  5. Any adjustments made will not risk a second peak of virus infections.

However, since 11th May some changes have already come into effect. These include increased time for exercise and the ability to travel to work, but only if you are unable to work from home and social distancing is maintained.

What is the R number and why is it so important?

The Prime Minister has said that it’s imperative that the UK’s ‘R number’ remains below 1, to avoid a second peak. But what is the R number and why is it so important?

R0, also known as ‘the R number’, tells us how many people are likely to be infected for every 1 person who gets the coronavirus. 

Currently the UK has an R number lower than 1 (somewhere between 0.5 and 0.9).However, if the R number rises to 1 or above, there’s a risk that the number of infections will increase.

An R number of 1 means that every person with the virus is likely to infect 1 more person. However, an R number of 2 means that every person with the virus will infect 2 other people, each of whom will infect 2 more people, and each of them will infect 2 more people – and so on. This means that the virus will spread much more quickly. Therefore, the higher the R number, the higher the rate of spread of the infection.

What is a ‘second peak’ and why could this be dangerous?

A ‘second peak’ refers to the possibility of a further increase in the amount of infections if the R number rises to 1 or above.

Collectively, we should do everything we can to avoid a second peak, as an increased amount of infections could overwhelm NHS resources and limit their ability to deliver essential care.

As per the Prime Minister’s briefing, lockdown will continue if there’s any risk of infections spiking again.    

Should I be wearing a face covering?

The official government advice on face coverings is that they should now be worn in enclosed or crowded spaces where possible. This is if you’re coming into contact with new people or those you haven’t been self isolating with. Their use is suited to short excursions such as travel on public transport or when shopping.

Wearing a face covering doesn’t protect you from infection. However, if you are infected but aren’t yet showing symptoms it can help to limit the spread of infection to others (e.g. through sneezing/coughing). A face covering doesn’t replace the need to practice social distancing, and those experiencing symptoms of coronavirus should still self isolate.

They should not be used on children who are under the age of 2, and it’s also important to note that the government stresses that face coverings are not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used as personal protective equipment (PPE).   

Are there any dangers linked to taking ibuprofen?

There is currently insufficient evidence to suggest that taking ibuprofen increases the risk of contacting coronavirus or worsening its symptoms. You can use ibuprofen to manage the symptoms of coronavirus, however for most people paracetamol would be a better first choice as it has fewer side effects and drug interactions.

When will the coronavirus vaccine be ready?

There are many different groups working on finding a vaccine, and although some human testing has begun, we don’t yet have a realistic idea of when an effective coronavirus vaccine will be available. Therefore, the best thing we can do for now is to maintain social distancing and follow the official government and NHS advice.