Coronavirus: Lockdown restrictions must not be relaxed, says Gove, despite signs showing 'plateau' in new cases

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Angus Walker

  • Words by Westminster Producer Lewis Denison

There should be no relaxation of coronavirus lockdown measures in the UK, Cabinet minister Michael Gove has said, despite signals the rate of infection is being slowed by social distancing.

Mr Gove, who was speaking at the Government's daily Covid-19 press conference, said the sign of slowing infection rates was "hopeful" but warned against an over interpretation of figures.

"There are some signs, as a result of people observing social distancing that we may be able to flatten the spread of infection", Mr Gove said, "but now is absolutely not the time for people to imagine there can be any relaxation or slackening".

The medical director of NHS England, Professor Stephen Powis, said evidence showed the public is obeying new social distancing rules and as a result, there had been a “bit of a plateau” in the number of new cases.

But he said it is "really important not to read too much" into statistics, "because it is really early days".

Prof Powis said that the rate of hospitalisation of cases for Covid-19 was still increasing, as was expected at this stage of the epidemic.

However, he said that if the number of infections started to drop, then in the next few weeks the “hope” was that the number of hospitalisations would also begin to fall.

But he said "we are not out of the woods, we are very much in the woods."

Prof Powis said the signs were positive, but "we must not be complacent and we must not take our foot off the pedal".

Mr Gove also admitted the UK must go "further, faster" in its attempt to ramp up coronavirus testing capabilities for NHS frontline staff.

He said "the rate of testing is increasing" but admitted there was a long way to go.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: “More NHS staff are returning to the frontline, and more testing is taking place to help those self-isolating come back, and to protect those working so hard in our hospitals and in social care.

“But while the rate of testing is increasing, we must go further, faster.”

He said a “critical constraint” on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents, but that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock were working with companies worldwide to ensure the UK gets the material needed to increase tests “of all kind”.

Another big issue for the NHS is the number of ventilators it has access to.

Mr Gove said the number had increased to "just over 8,000 ventilators deployed in NHS hospitals" but admitted "we need more".

He said the UK had been buying new ventilators from abroad, as well as beginning productions of its own.

The first new ventilator devices will roll off the production line this weekend and be delivered to the NHS next week, Mr Gove said.

He said: “I can announce that this weekend the first of thousands of new ventilator devices will roll off the production line and be delivered to the NHS next week.

“From there, they will be rapidly distributed to the frontline.”