The Government has insisted its plan to tackle the coronavirus pandemic “is working” but warned the nationwide lockdown will not be lifted this week.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab showed some cautious optimism as he revealed the latest data suggested the UK was “starting to win this struggle”, three weeks after restrictions were imposed.
But he insisted the virus was not yet past its peak and that it was “far too early” to talk about relaxing the measures, with reports suggesting the lockdown will be extended for at least another three weeks.
Speaking at Monday’s Downing Street press conference, he praised the public for staying at home over the Easter weekend, and added: “Our plan is working.
“Please stick with it, and we’ll get through this crisis together.”
Details of how the lockdown will eventually be lifted remain unclear, however, with the Government repeatedly refusing to outline its “exit strategy”.
Scientists advising the Government are expected to meet this week to review the latest figures, but Mr Raab insisted it was crucial that “we do not take our eye off the ball” with regards to social distancing.
It came as the World Health Organisation said restrictions should be lifted slowly and not “all at once” to avoid a resurgence of the virus, and only if appropriate measures are in place, including “significant” capacity for contact tracing.
But experts have also warned that the public’s strong support to stick to the lockdown measures “won’t last” and the Government needs to find a way to tell the nation about how it will be eased.
Professor Linda Bauld, of the University of Edinburgh, said the public was now steeling itself for a continuation of the lockdown, amid an atmosphere where support for the measures remains high, compliance is generally good and concern about the virus is at the forefront of people’s minds.
“But this won’t last,” she warned.
“The social, economic and health effects of lockdown are accumulating.
“There will come a tipping point when the cost of the current restrictions outweighs the benefits.”
She added: “Sooner rather than later, government needs to share the possible options with the public and be transparent about the costs and benefits of each, rather than continually evading questions on this, as is currently the case.”
The Government has also faced criticism over whether more lives could have been saved if the lockdown had been implemented earlier, as the Department for Health said 11,329 people had died in hospitals in the UK as of 5pm on Sunday, with many more expected in care homes.
It means the UK has more recorded deaths than any country except the US, Italy, Spain and France.
But Mr Raab rejected any “like-for-like” comparison with other countries, saying it depended on each nation’s individual circumstances and how far along the coronavirus outbreak curve they were.
Meanwhile, questions were also raised about whether the number of coronavirus-related deaths in care homes was being properly recorded.
Industry bosses warned daily death tolls are “airbrushing out” hundreds of older people who have died in the care system, as the chief medical officer announced that coronavirus outbreaks had been recorded at 92 care homes in the UK in just 24 hours.
Speaking at the daily press briefing, Professor Chris Whitty said around 13.5% of care homes in the UK have registered an outbreak, and said he would like Covid-19 testing to be increased in care homes.
The Government also continues to face pressure over shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline NHS staff, as a growing number of health workers died.
According to The Guardian, the UK missed three chances to be part of an EU scheme to bulk buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, with European medical staff set to receive the first of £1.3 billion-worth of PPE within days or a maximum of two weeks under the scheme.
In other developments on Monday:
– Mr Johnson continued his recovery from Covid-19 at Chequers in Buckinghamshire after doctors ordered the Prime Minister to rest.
– Spain, which on Sunday reported its lowest daily growth in infections for three weeks, allowed workers in some non-essential industries to return to factories and construction sites on Monday.
– French President Emmanuel Macron announced the extension of France’s strict lockdown until May 11, on his third televised address to the nation on the virus crisis from the Elysee palace.
– Italy recorded its lowest daily virus death toll in three weeks at 431, putting its total deaths at more than 19,800.
In his address, Mr Macron acknowledged “failures and deficiencies” in a reference to the lack of masks and other equipment.
As a response to the criticism that the country has not conducted enough coronavirus tests, he promised that by May 11, all those who have symptoms will be able to get tested.