Coronavirus: Social distancing measures will not be relaxed this week, Downing Street insists
Government's five tests for lifting lockdown have not been met, Boris Johnson's spokesman says
Downing Street has poured cold water on the prospect of any relaxation of social distancing measures this week, insisting 7 May remains the date for a review of the lockdown.
Boris Johnson’s promise yesterday that he would set out his thinking on “refining” economic and social restrictions “in the coming days” raised hopes of a step back towards normal life by the end of the week.
But his official spokesman today told reporters that there was no question of lifting restrictions before meeting the government’s five tests - the NHS being able to cope; a sustained fall in deaths; a drop in infections to manageable levels; sufficient testing capacity and protective equipment; and no risk of a second peak.
And he added: “I don’t think we are suggesting for a moment that the five tests are met.”
It is expected that Sage will publish the evidence on which it bases its recommendations to ministers by the end of the week.
Ministers are expected to decide shortly on advice from Sage that scarves and home-made face coverings could help reduce the spread of coronavirus in workplaces and public transport.
But it is not thought that ministers will be asked to approve any easing of the lockdown at Thursday’s meeting.
The 360 Covid-19 deaths in British hospitals reported on Monday were the lowest since 30 March, with figures showing a 16 per cent decrease in coronavirus patients in UK hospitals compared to the previous week.
But chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned there was “a very long way” to go before the virus was beaten.
Asked about speculation that Mr Johnson might this week announce measures such as the reopening of non-essential shops or workplaces where two-metre distancing can be maintained, the PM’s spokesman said: “We have set out that we will review social distancing measures by 7 May and the government is focused on that date.
“We are not at the point of wanting to change the social distancing measures which we have in place. In order to do that, we will have to have met the five tests.”
The spokesman said that ministers “aren’t prepared to risk a second peak that would be bad for public health and bad for the economy”.
Any increase in the rate of reprodution of the infection above 1 - meaning each infected person infects one other person - would mean a return to "exponential" growth of coronavirus in the community, he warned. Currently, the rate, known as R, is believed to be between 0.5 and 1, setting the scene for the outbreak being reduced and eventually brought under control.
On his second day back at work after recovering from coronavirus, Mr Johnson chaired the daily “war cabinet” at 10 Downing Street before taking part with chancellor Rishi Sunak in the one-minute silence for workers killed by Covid-19.
The PM’s spokesman said Mr Johnson was feeling “fine” and was “getting on with the coronavirus response” but was unable to say whether he would be taking part in the regular weekly session of prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday. First secretary of state Dominic Raab stood in for the PM last week while he continued his recuperation at Chequers.
The government is facing a deadline on Thursday for meeting health secretary Matt Hancock’s target of 100,000 daily tests, though delays in delivering results may mean it is not clear until early next week whether the milestone has been reached.
Within an hour of 10,000 home testing kits being made available this morning, some 7,000 were snapped up, while 22,000 of the 26,000 slots available at drive-through testing centres were booked.
Downing Street believes the testing programme has contributed to a fall in absences among NHS England frontline staff since 4 April, which has seen the proportion of doctors away from work drop from 7.3 per cent to 3.6 per cent and nurses from 9.5 per cent to 6.6 per cent.