Coronavirus: Dominic Raab asks public for patience on lifting lockdown, warning UK at ‘delicate and dangerous moment’
Warning of ‘worrying’ signs of motorists flouting government’s stay-at-home rules
Dominic Raab has issued a plea for patience on lifting the coronavirus lockdown, warning that the UK stands at a “delicate and dangerous moment” with the risk of a second wave of infection inflicting more deaths and prolonged economic pain.
The first secretary was speaking as new statistics showed the UK moving into third place for Covid-19 deaths globally with 26,097, behind only the US and Italy, as fatalities outside hospitals were included for the first time.
And Public Health England medical director Yvonne Doyle warned of a “worrying” rise in car use to its highest since the lockdown began five weeks ago, in an apparent sign of more people ignoring the government’s stay-at-home message.
“We’ve seen up to now very dramatic falls in most modes (of transport) but there has been an uptick in motor vehicles,” said Prof Doyle. “The message here really is that we are still passing through this peak and this use of motor vehicles is the highest working day since 23 March and we really have to be vigilant.
“Most people are making huge efforts to stay at home and save lives. This is slightly worrying, so please do stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.”
Cabinet meets on Thursday for the first time since Boris Johnson returned to work declaring that he wanted to set out within days a route to “refining” the social and economic restrictions imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus.
But his second-in-command, Mr Raab, left no doubt that there would be no significant moves to ease lockdown at the meeting, revealing that ministers have not yet received advice from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) on whether his five tests for triggering the “second phase” have been met.
Sage also meets on Thursday, but will not deliver its verdict until days before the three-weekly review of lockdown measures on 7 May, he said.
Ministers will be pulling out all the stops to hit Matt Hancock’s Thursday deadline of achieving 100,000 daily coronavirus tests, with the health secretary even writing to Conservative party supporters urging them to take up the new facilities for home-testing kits and drive-through sites.
But with capacity standing at 73,000 and just 53,429 tests conducted on Tuesday, it looked likely that the target will remain out of reach, though confirmation will probably not come until Friday or later because of the lag in tallying up totals.
Figures released by Public Health England showed that 765 deaths from Covid-19 were recorded inside and outside hospital in the 24 hours to 5pm on Tuesday.
The daily statistics had previously included only deaths in hospital and the new method meant an additional 3,811 fatalities were added to the running total.
It came just hours after Labour leader Keir Starmer challenged Mr Johnson’s claim that the government’s strategy had been an “apparent success” in the House of Commons, telling MPs that the death toll was “truly dreadful” and could lead to the UK ending up as the worst-hit country in Europe.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing, Mr Raab said there continued to be evidence of a flattening in the graph of deaths and infections, while hospitalisations have failed 16 per cent over the past week to 15,356.
But he warned: “We are still coming through the peak, and this is a delicate and dangerous moment in this crisis.
“I know that a lot of people have made a lot of sacrifices, which is why it is so important that we don’t let up now and risk undoing all of that hard work.”
He pointed to Germany, where the partial lifting of lockdown restrictions has been followed by deaths edging higher, with Chancellor Angela Merkel believed to be mulling a second shutdown.
Mr Raab said ministers were working on “all the potential options” for relaxation of restrictions.
But he said: “A second spike would be harmful to public health, resulting in many more deaths from Covid-19.
“That itself would lead to a second lockdown, inflicting further prolonged economic pain on the country… That would not just be economically dangerous, it would inflict a serious blow to public confidence.
“This risk is very real, and it is vital that we proceed carefully, guided by the scientific advice, so that our next step through this crisis is a sure-footed one.
“We mustn’t gamble away the sacrifices and progress we’ve made.”
He added: “There is light at the end of the tunnel – whether you are an NHS worker on the front line working tirelessly shift after shift, or a parent at home with young children.
“But we need to be patient and careful as we come through this moment of maximum risk.”
Labour’s social care spokeswoman Liz Kendall welcomed the move to daily reporting of deaths outside hospitals, but added: “These devastating figures show that further action is urgently required to reduce the spread of the virus and keep care users and staff safe.
“More needs to be done to ensure all care staff get the PPE they need and to ensure social care is properly funded to deal with the extra costs of the pandemic. The Government must also introduce a strategy for intermediate care, to prevent the spread of Covid-19 by people who are discharged from hospital and help struggling care homes.”
And acting Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: “As we finally see the Government’s revised figures of how many people have tragically lost their lives to coronavirus, the sheer scale of this human disaster is becoming clearer. Tens of thousands of people right across the country will be mourning the loss of a loved one, and not only do they deserve answers, but the government must ensure lessons are learnt.
“The case for an independent public inquiry once this crisis is over could not be stronger. The British public deserve to know the truth, including precisely how many people have died. There is no excuse for the Government’s refusal to commit to an official review into their response to this pandemic.”