Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand
Lockdown measures to slow the spread of coronavirus in the UK will be extended for at least three more weeks, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said.
He said "any change to our social distancing measures" would risk a "significant increase" in the spread of coronavirus.
He said there were "indications" that the virus spread was slowing, owing to social distancing, but said a "mixed and inconsistent picture" meant it was "still likely to be increasing" in some settings.
The First Secretary of State, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from coronavirus, was speaking after chairing a Cobra meeting with regional leaders from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The meeting took advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which told leaders relaxing any of the measures would risk damage to both public health and the economy.
Mr Raab said: "Based on this advice, which we have very carefully considered, the Government has decided that the current measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks."
Mr Raab told the government's daily coronavirus press conference there were positive signs that social distancing was working in the UK, but said large areas of society were still at risk.
He said he rate of infection – the R0 value – was “almost certainly below one in the community”, meaning infected people were passing the disease on to fewer than one other person on average.
He said there are still “issues with the virus spreading in some hospitals and in care homes” and that easing any restrictions would "threaten a second peak of the virus and substantially increase the number of deaths".
He warned a new peak would result in a second lockdown, something which would not only damage public health, but would "prolong the economic risks".
He insisted there is "light at the end of the tunnel" as he urged the public to "keep up the social distancing measures".
But he refused to set a specific timetable for when restrictions would be lifted.
“We can’t give a definitive timeframe, that would be to prejudge the evidence, that wouldn’t be a responsible thing to do."
Mr Raab said there was a five point check list of things the government would need to be sure of before restrictions could be lifted.
When restrictions will be lifted:
When there's a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates to be confident the UK is beyond the peak
Once data from Sage shows the rate of infection is decreasing to manageable levels around the country
When testing capacity and PPE is sufficient enough to meet future demand
When experts are confident that any adjustments to the current measures would not risk a second peak in infections
When NHS’s ability to cope is protected and experts are confident that the NHS is able to provide sufficient critical care across the UK
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston has more on the announcement:
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he "fully" supports the government's decision.
”The priority now must be to ensure we see a ramp up in testing, that staff get the PPE they desperately need and more is done to protect our care homes from the virus," he said.
“We also need clarity about what plans are being put in place to lift the lockdown when the time is right.”
Acting Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “It is absolutely right that we continue to do everything we can to reduce the transmission of this virus.
“That means accepting the necessity for the lockdown measures to remain in place. Nothing could be more important right now.
How to social distance:
At the press conference Mr Raab also touched on the UK's latest death figures, saying it showed now is not the time to ease the restrictions.
Stats show a total of 13,729 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK, up by 861 from 12,868 the day before.It's believed hundreds more will have died outside hospitals, in care homes, hospices and other places in the community.
On Wednesday evening Health Minister Nadine Dorries suggested restrictions should not be relaxed until a vaccine is found - something experts believe will take at least a year.
She said on Twitter: "Journalists should stop asking about an ‘exit strategy.’
"There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine."
She was forced to clarify her comments on Twitter, saying "there is more than one" form of lockdown, and a full exit would be a gradual process.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock appeared to back her when speaking on Good Morning Britain.
He said: “What Nadine is saying is that this talk about an exit strategy, with the idea that we go immediately back to exactly how things were before, it is far too early for that."
He later told ITV News: "[Nadine] is right to caution that people thinking that suddenly everything will be back to exactly what it was like in January, that isn’t how this is going to play out."
Coronavirus: Everything you need to know