Coronavirus: Dominic Raab urges Britons to stay strong as he extends lockdown
Restrictions must stay for at least three more weeks and some could remain until June, the Foreign Secretary indicated. Changing course now risked a worse death toll and more damage to the economy, he warned. Mr Raab, standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is recovering from the virus, said Britons had “sacrificed too much to ease up now”. Although the infection rate was shrinking, the fight was at a “delicate and dangerous stage” and the country must help “defeat the virus for good”.
He set out five key tests to be met before the Government will end the lockdown.
Number one is that the NHS’s ability to cope is protected.
There must also be a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates.
Thirdly, infection rates must drop. At the same time, there must be confidence in testing capacity and supply of personal protection equipment (PPE).
Finally, any changes will not risk a second peak.
Mr Raab said: “There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we are now at both a delicate and a dangerous stage in this pandemic.
“If we rush to relax the measures that we have in place, we would risk wasting all the sacrifices and all the progress that has been made.
“That would risk a quick return to another lockdown with all the threat to life that a second peak to the virus would bring and all the economic damage that a second lockdown would carry.”
The latest UK figures show 103,093 people have tested positive for coronavirus and 13,729 have died in hospital, up 861 on the day before.
The decision to continue lockdown restrictions was taken after meetings of the Cabinet, the emergency Cobra committee and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Mr Raab said the Government would allow some economic and social activity to resume when experts say it is safe. He said: “It could involve relaxing measures in some areas, while strengthening measures in other areas.” The Foreign Secretary said infected people were now passing the disease to fewer than one other person on average, but it was still not low enough.
Indicating restrictions are likely to remain in place in some form until June, he said: “The Prime Minister said at the outset that it would take three months to come through the peak and I think that, broadly, is still the outline.
“We can’t give a definitive timeframe. But our message to the British public is: there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are making progress, but at the same time we must keep up the social distancing measures.”
Ministers are facing demands for an exit strategy. Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson said: “We need to put in place an infrastructure, a command and control structure, a novel organisation for this.”
He said more testing was needed to isolate individual virus cases and trace their contacts to keep future outbreaks under control, “and I should say, it’s not going to be going back to normal”. Prof Ferguson added: “We will have to maintain a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely, until we have a vaccine available.”
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was fully behind the move to extend the lockdown.
He said: “The priority now must be to ensure we see a ramp up in testing, that staff get the PPE they desperately need and more is done to protect our care homes.
“We also need clarity about what plans are being put in place to lift the lockdown when the time is right.”
Confederation of British Industry director general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said public health was the main priority.
But she warned Government lifelines for businesses, in particular the Job Retention Scheme, would “matter more than ever”.
Dame Carolyn added that firms also needed “urgent clarity” on the scheme’s duration. Meanwhile, Germany will follow Italy, Spain, Austria and Denmark by easing restrictions.
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Some schools are reopening in May and Chancellor Angela Merkel said small shops could follow suit from next week, but with strict hygiene and social distancing measures.
Ms Merkel is also recommending the use of face masks in shops and on public transport.
FIVE MEASURES TO EASE ISOLATION
Dominic Raab said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before it would consider adjusting current measures:
- Be able to protect the NHS’s ability to cope and be confident the NHS can provide sufficient critical care across the UK
- See a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak
- Receive reliable data showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
- Be confident that testing capacity and PPE are in hand with supply able to meet future demand
- Be confident any adjustments would not risk a second peak in infections which would overwhelm the NHS
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