The UK has been in lockdown for over a month, but signs from Downing Street don’t suggest that restrictions will ease in the coming weeks.
With our coronavirus death toll now the third highest in the world after the US and Italy, the government is playing down any expectations things will get back to normal soon.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman hinted measures would stay in place when asked about reports that the lockdown may be extended until June.
He told a Westminster briefing: ‘What you’ve obviously heard from (England’s chief medical officer) Chris Whitty is that this is a disease that is going to be around for a significant amount of time – he’s said we have to be realistic, we’re going to have to do a lot of things for a long period of time.’
The spokesman added: ‘Let’s not pre-empt the review but, as the PM himself has said, the worst thing we could do is relax the social distancing measures too soon and throw away all of the progress which has been made thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the British public.’
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Boris Johnson will front his first daily press conference since recovering from Covid-19 this afternoon amid mounting pressure on him to set out a path out of the lockdown.
Thursday’s Cabinet and a gathering of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) come as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that easing lockdown would not be a ‘flick of the switch moment’.
Sage is looking at a selection of options for easing restrictions while keeping the reproduction rate of the coronavirus – the number of new cases linked to a single individual – below one to stop it spreading exponentially.
Germany saw a rise in that rate after easing its own lockdown.
With some Tory backbenchers pressing for an easing of measures for the sake of the economy, Business Secretary Alok Sharma is set to put forward plans for an eventual ‘workplace by workplace’ approach.
A Business Department spokesman said: ‘The Government has already set out five clear tests to consider before making any adjustment to its approach.
‘It is only right that we work together with industry and unions to ensure workplaces are safe for both those in work now and for those going back to work as Government measures develop.’
But Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday night that she was ‘far from convinced’ measures could be eased on the next review date of May 7.
‘People talk about lifting the lockdown, that is not going to be a flick of the switch moment – we’re going to have to be very careful, very slow, very gradual.
‘I’m far from convinced at this stage that when we get to the next review point on the 7th of May we’ll be in a position to lift any of these measures right now, because the margins of manoeuvre that we’re operating in right now are very, very, very tight and narrow.’
Her comments came after it was announced that a total of 26,097 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community in the UK after contracting Covid-19.
It is the first time data on the number of deaths in care homes and the wider community has been included in the Government’s daily updates.
The change in measurement means the UK death toll is the third highest in the world, behind the US and Italy, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.
The US had reported 58,355 deaths and Italy 27,359.
The Government pointed out other countries may report figures differently and any lag is unclear, although France and Italy also include deaths in care homes.
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