The government is expected to extend the coronavirus lockdown for another three weeks – amid warnings that the country may only fully ‘exit’ when a vaccine is found.
Ministers are meeting this morning to agree to prolong the social distancing controls announced on March 23, amid signs that the UK’s epidemic is beginning to peak. A continuation of the measures are expected to be announced despite the absence of the recovering prime minister, amid renewed warnings that it is still too soon to start easing the restrictions.
The Cabinet meeting comes as the number of people who have died in hospital after testing positive for Covid-19 reached almost 13,000, with growing concern over the number of deaths in care homes.
Downing Street said the three-week review of the lockdown regulations will go ahead as planned, in line with the coronavirus legislation. However, ministers and officials have repeatedly made clear there is no prospect of any imminent relaxation.
Last night, health minister Nadine Dorries took to Twitter to urge journalists to stop asking about an exit strategy.
She said: ‘There is only one way we can “exit” full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine.
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‘Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said his party will back an extension, but has repeatedly called on ministers to set out an exit strategy explaining how restrictions will eventually be lifted.
Elsewhere, a leaked letter written on Saturday to a senior official at the Department of Health and Social Care by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) says mixed messages from Government have created ‘confusion and additional workload’.
Yesterday it was also revealed that police have issued more than 3,000 fines to lockdown rule breakers.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – standing in for the PM as he continues to recuperate from the disease – will chair the Cabinet meeting, when minister are expected to be briefed on the latest situation by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
Mr Raab will then lead a meeting of the Cobra civil contingencies committee, when it is expected that the extension of the lockdown will be formally approved.
The leaders of the devolved administrations for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will take part by video link.
However, even before the meeting, the Stormont executive announced social distancing rules would continue in Northern Ireland at least until May.
That follows moves in Italy, New Zealand, Germany and other countries to begin easing their restrictions.
The human cost of the epidemic in the UK was underlined with the disclosure that the latest victims of the disease included pregnant nurse Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong, 28, who had worked on a general ward at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital for five years.
Her baby, a girl, was delivered successfully and was doing well, according to the hospital.
According to the latest figures, 12,868 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Tuesday, up by 761 from the previous day.
However, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned of a possible ‘bounce’ in the numbers when the next set of figures are released due to delays in reporting deaths over the Easter weekend.
Despite insisting the restrictions must remain for now, ministers are deeply conscious of the economic damage being wrought by the lockdown.
The Office for Budget Responsibility warned earlier this week unemployment could rise by two million and the UK could see a 35% drop in GDP.
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