UK will stay on coronavirus lockdown for three more weeks, Dominic Raab announces
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Deputising for the Prime Minister, Mr Raab told the daily Downing Street press conference that lifting restrictions too soon would risk a second peak in coronavirus cases that would further endanger public health and the economy.
He said that though the country's efforts were starting to pay off and there was "light at the end of tunnel", things were now at a "dangerous and delicate" stage and infection rates were still not low enough for lockdown measures to be eased.
Mr Raab, who chaired Cabinet and Cobra meetings earlier today and took advice from the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the current restrictions would remain in place for another three weeks.
"There are indications that the measures we have put in place have been successful in slowing down the spread of this virus. But Sage also say that is a mixed and inconsistent picture and, in some settings, infections are still likely to be increasing."
The rate of infection - the R0 value - was "almost certainly below one in the community", meaning infected people were passing the disease on to fewer than one other person on average.
"But overall we still don't have the infection rate down as far as we need to," he told the daily Downing Street news conference.
Mr Raab said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before it would consider it safe to adjust any of the current measures.
- Protect the NHS's ability to cope and be confident that the NHS is able to 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
- Reliable data from Sage showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
- Confident that testing capacity and PPE are in hand with supply able to meet future demand
- Confident that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections which would overwhelm the NHS
He said: "The worst thing that we can do right now is to ease up too soon, and allow a second peak of the virus to hit the NHS and hit the British people.
"It would be the worst outcome not just for public health but for the economy and for our country as a whole."
Mr Raab insisted "there is light at the end of the tunnel" but refused to set out a "definitive timeframe" for easing the lockdown measures.
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, that would be to prejudge the evidence, that wouldn't be a responsible thing to do.
"But our message to the British public is: there is light at the end of tunnel, we are making progress, but at the same time we must keep up the social distancing measures."
Responding to the announcement, Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, said: "Social distancing measures are working. That's why it's the right thing to do to extend the lockdown period, to help protect the NHS and save lives.
"I know the current restrictions are tough for us all, and we are all trying hard to make the best of an incredibly challenging situation. But we will pull through by pulling together, like we have done in the past. These are temporary measures which will protect our communities and our future."
As Ministers met to agree the details of the continued lockdown, one of the scientists advising them questioned whether the Government had done enough work on an exit strategy.
Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London said: "I think there's a lot of discussion. I would like to see action accelerated.
"We need to put in place an infrastructure, a command and control structure, a novel organisation for this."
The Cabinet meeting to agree prolonging social distancing measures came amid signs the epidemic in the UK is beginning to peak.
But Ministers were playing down expectations in the wake of those signs with health minister Nadine Dorries taking 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. Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy."
Mr Hancock said he agreed that things will not go back to how they were, at least in the short term.
He stressed the number of deaths is still "far too high" for any exit strategy to be set out.
A total of 13,729 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Wednesday, up 861 on the figure the day before.
Hospitals in Yorkshire have seen a record daily rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus deaths, with 98 new deaths announced today. It brings the total confirmed death toll in Yorkshire hospitals to 915.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: "Well I think what Nadine was saying is the idea that we'll immediately... we'll just switch off all of the measures and return to some kind of... to things exactly as they were - that is not likely in the short-term."
He said Ms Dorries' use of the word "full" when referring to the lockdown was key, adding he thought the "point that Nadine was making is that we will not be returning to some... just straight back exactly how things were before. This will take time."
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Prof Ferguson called for more co-ordination on an exit strategy, adding that "we have limited leeway to release current measures unless we have something new to put in their place".
He said: "I'm reminded by the fact we had a Department for Brexit for Government - that was a major national emergency, as it were - and we're faced with something which is, at the moment, even larger than Brexit and yet I don't see quite the same evidence for that level of organisation."
Prof Ferguson said that as restrictions are eased, more testing will be needed to isolate individual cases and trace their contacts to keep future outbreaks under control.