Length of coronavirus lockdown measures 'not absolutely fixed', says Cabinet minister

The length of the coronavirus lockdown is not "absolutely fixed" a Cabinet minister has warned, as Boris Johnson said the Government "will not hesitate to go further" with measures aimed at limiting the outbreak.

Speaking to Sky News, Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the length of lockdown restrictions "depends on all of our behaviour".

Mr Gove's statement was more ambiguous than the Prime Minister who last week offered a glimmer of hope when he said he expects the UK can "turn the tide" within three months.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster warned that ministers would not hesitate to enforce tougher rules, but said the evidence is people are obeying them.

The comments come as Boris Johnson penned a letter to all UK households warning "things will get worse before they get better" and urging the need to stay indoors to help slow the outbreak.

Mr Johnson is self-isolating at Number 11 Downing Street after testing positive for the virus. Credit: PA

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Gove said: "There are different projections as to how long the lockdown might last.

"But it's not the case that the length of the lockdown is something that is absolutely fixed.

"It depends on all of our behaviour. If we follow the guidelines, we can deal more effectively with the spread of the disease."

  • What you can and can't do during the lockdown:

The Cabinet minister told Sky's Sophy Ridge programme the Government will adjust its guidelines on "the basis of behaviour, on the basis of data, on the basis of facts, on the basis of science".

Mr Gove declined to give a timeframe for the strict measures being lifted but insisted "it is important" that "we don't pre-empt discussion of what other steps may be required" should measures be strengthened further.

Speaking to BBC's Andrew Marr later on Sunday morning, Mr Gove added that the public must prepare for a "significant period" of lockdown.

Letters from the Prime Minister will be delivered to all UK households. Credit: PA

Not only could the lockdown period lengthen, the conditions of it could become stricter in a bid to keep the number of deaths and cases in the UK as low as possible, Mr Johnson said in his letter to all households.

"We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do," the Prime Minister wrote.

"We know things will get worse before they get better.

"But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal."

Police now have powers to fine - or even arrest - people flouting stay-at-home measures. Credit: PA

On Sunday, the Department of Health confirmed a further 209 patients had died after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The total number of virus-related deaths in the UK now stands at 1,228.

Professor Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of NHS England, has warned that keeping UK coronavirus deaths below 20,000 would be "a good result".

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Gove said the Government is "very concerned" by the increase in the number of deaths from coronavirus.

A temporary 4,000 bed hospital is being set up in the ExCel Centre in London to cope with the expected demand as a result of the outbreak. Credit: AP

Asked about a steepening in the curve of fatalities, the Cabinet minister said it was important people adhered to the social distancing rules outlined by the Government.

"It's absolutely critical that all of us stay at home, that we limit our trips away from home to just one a day for exercise, we limit the amount that we shop."

Mr Gove added: "If we do that, we can all play our part in helping the NHS."

The UK has hit its initially 10,000-a-day testing target, Mr Gove said, but he refused to give a timeline for when all NHS and social care workers will be tested - despite increasing demands.

NHS frontline staff are being tested for coronavirus at a temporary drive through testing station in the car park of Chessington World of Adventures in Chessington. Credit: PA

The minister also commented on the current functioning of Government, with both Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19.

Mr Gove said the Prime Minister remained "very firmly in charge" and would hold another meeting by video conference on Sunday.

He also confirmed that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is the "designated deputy" should Mr Johnson's condition worsen and he could no longer govern.

Matt Hancock sitting near the Prime Minister at Wednesday's PMQs before both were tested positive for the virus. Credit: PA

Asked if the Government had been observing its own coronavirus guidance after ministers developed symptoms, Mr Gove told the BBC's Andrew Marr:

"We've been doing everything we can to observe that advice and it's certainly the case that within the House of Commons people were seeking to maintain an appropriate distance from one another."

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