The coronavirus lockdown for UK has been extended by at least three weeks, confirmed by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
The foreign secretary, who is standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from Covid-19, said the decision was made following advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
At todays (16 April) press briefing at Downing Street, Mr Raab said: ‘Our action plan aims to slow the spread of coronavirus so fewer people need hospital treatment at any one time and that’s the way we can protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. ‘At every step along this way we’ve followed very carefully the scientific and medical advice we’ve received so we take the right steps at the right moment in time.
‘There are indications that the measures we’ve put in place have been successful in slowing down the spread of this virus. ‘The government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks.’
Mr Raab said early relaxation of the restrictions would ‘do more damage to the economy over a longer period’ as well as risking people’s health. He set out five criteria that need to be met before lockdown is lifted – including signs of a consistent fall in the daily death rates.
He said: ‘First we must protect the NHS’ ability to cope, we must be confident we can provide sufficient critical care and specialist treatment across the UK.
‘Second, we need to see a sustained and consistent fall in the daily death rates from coronavirus so we are confident we have moved beyond the peak.
‘Third we need to have reliable data showing the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board.
‘Fourth we need to be confident the range of operational challenges, including testing capacity and PPE, are in hand with supply able to meet future demand.
‘Fifth we need to be confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections that will overwhelm the NHS.’
Mr Raab said the government will look at adjusting the measures only when it is confident on the five points. He said this could mean allowing some economic and social activity to resume, but suggested this would happen on a regional basis. ‘It could involve relaxing some measures and strengthening them in other areas’ he told the briefing.
He said he appreciated the extension would have a considerable impact on people’s lives and businesses, but said now was not the time ‘to give coronavirus a second chance’.
‘I appreciate the impact of these measures is considerable for people and for businesses, across the country’ he said. ‘Whether it’s the cost being shouldered, the sacrifices people are making, being isolated from friends and family, whole households cooped up inside all week long, parents having difficult conversations with young children who just don’t understand why they can’t see their grandparents or go outside and meet up with friends… we get it. ‘We know it’s rough going at this time.’
The UK has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in Europe, but it has still not reached the peak of the crisis. Mr Raab said the government still believed it would take three months to get through the peak. But he said: ‘We will be taking it step by step, guided by the evidence. It will be reviewed at the end of the month.’