Coronavirus: UK lockdown extended for at least three more weeks
The government has announced that the current UK lockdown must continue for at least another three weeks as the battle against the coronavirus continues.
First Secretary of State Dominic Raab said there were signs that the policy was working, but warned: "We still don't have infection rates down as much as we need to. Any change to social distancing measures now would risk significant increase in infections."
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson still recovering from his Covid-19 infection, Mr Raab addressed the nation in a press conference at which he indicated that the government’s initial suggestion in March that this stage could last three months was “broadly still the outline”, with reviews of measures each month.
He said: “I appreciate the impact is considerable on people and businesses across the country.
“We get it, we know it is rough going. Every time I come to this lectern and read out the grim toll, I walk away and think of their sons and daughters going through this right now, their brothers, sisters, grandchildren, all those left behind.
“It makes this government focus even harder on what we must do and I know together, united, we must keep up this national effort.”
His comments came on the day health authorities confirmed another 861 deaths from Covid-19, taking the total to 13,729.
Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge has recorded 39 deaths from the virus according to figures released today (April 16), while neighbouring Royal Papworth Hospital has recorded eight. There has been one death recorded by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Fulbourn Hospital and The Ida Darwin Hospital site, while North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Peterborough City Hospital and Stamford and Rutland Hospital, has recorded 56 Covid-19-related deaths.
Britain has become only the sixth country to have diagnosed more than 100,000 cases.
There were 4,618 positive tests in the last day - suggesting the number of new cases is stabilising. It takes the total count to 103,093.
Mr Raab, the foreign secretary, told the nation: “What you are doing is working - notwithstanding the death toll, tragic for so many people. But if we let up now, it will be damaging for public health and the economy."
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, said the number of people in hospital has declined three per cent in the last 24 hours, and there remains spare capacity, with 10,000 beds available even before the newly-created Nightingale field hospitals are taken into account.
Sir Patrick, who acknowledged that the number of cases in care homes needs “to come down”, indicated that a number of social distancing measures may need to remain in place until a vaccine is available.
“That is very different from saying the ones now need to be in place long term,” he said.
He said it was now “highly likely” that the average person in the community is infecting one person or less.
Mr Raab said there were five indicators that will influence when lockdown measures can be lifted. These are:
- ensuring the NHS can help
- evidence of a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates
- reliable data showing the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels
- confidence in operational challenges, such as testing and levels of personal protective equipment; and
- confidence that any adjustments will not risk a second peak.
Meanwhile, Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, said Public Health England had been asked to look in detail at research showing that more than a third of patients critically ill in hospital with Covid-19 were from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the party “fully supports” the extension of the lockdown measures, which were first introduced on March 23.
Business leaders also supported the move.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director-general, said: “The government is right to extend the lockdown and has the full support of business. Public health remains firms’ number one priority.
“At the same time, extending restrictions will bring serious challenges for many companies. The Government’s lifelines for business will matter more than ever. In particular, it’s vital that the Job Retention Scheme starts delivering cash to struggling companies next week, as HMRC is working hard to achieve. Firms also need urgent clarity on the Scheme’s duration.
“When scientific evidence shows it’s safe to do so, eyes will turn to how the lockdown can be lifted. To build public trust and the right action, many voices will need to be heard, from health experts and political leaders to business, unions and local communities. It’s not too early to start to plan, cautiously and with public health paramount, for the revival of our economy.”
Cambridgeshire County Council leader Cllr Steve Count thanked residents for staying at home.
“We’ve managed to flatten the curve - people’s lives have been saved by that,” he said. “I know it’s incredibly difficult... but we are saving lives.
“Please continue to do the same. Please follow the guidelines.”
What are the rules?
To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the government has said people should stay at home as much as possible, only leaving with a “reasonable excuse”. The government says this includes:
shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.
any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.
The guidelines advise that when out, people must stay at least two metres (6ft) from anyone except members of their immediate household.
The advice on exercising is that people should only go out to do this once a day, and to stay local wherever possible. Gatherings of more than two in parks and public spaces have been banned. Walking a dog is considered exercise, while sunbathing is not a valid reason to leave home.