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UK lockdown extended for at least three more weeks

REUTERS/Toby Melville

By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

The coronavirus lockdown is to be extended for at least another three weeks, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said as he warned that lifting restrictions now would risk a dangerous second peak of Covid-19.

Mr Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from the virus, said the original three-month timeline set down by Mr Johnson to come through the peak of the virus was broadly “still the outline”.

The Cabinet minister told reporters there is “light at the end of the tunnel” but refused to set out a “definitive timeframe” for easing the lockdown measures, stressing that lifting them now would only lead to a “second lockdown”.

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.”

Mr Raab said ministers and scientists must be confident there will be no second wave of infections, and that more widespread testing needed to be put in place alongside solid evidence that infections were falling.

“The worst thing we could do right now is to ease up too soon, allow a second peak of the virus to hit the NHS and to hit the British people”, he said at the daily press briefing.

“It would be the worst outcome not just for public health but for the economy and for our country as a whole.”

Mr Raab said there were still “issues with the virus spreading in some hospitals and in care homes”, adding: “The very clear advice we received is that any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.

“That would threaten a second peak of the virus and substantially increase the number of deaths.

“It would undo the progress we have made to date and as a result would require an even longer period of the more restrictive social distancing measures.”

Mr Raab said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before it would consider it safe to adjust the current measures.

They are:
– Protect the NHS’s ability to cope and be confident that the NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care across the UK
– A sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak
– Reliable data from Government scientific advisers showing rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels across the board
– Confidence that testing capacity and personal protective equipment (PPE) are in hand with “supply able to meet future demand”

– Confidence that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections.

Mr Raab said 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 said.

Ministers agreed the need to prolong social distancing measures following meetings of the Cabinet and the Government’s emergency committee Cobra.