Dominic Raab insisted there would be no let-up in the fight against coronavirus while Boris Johnson continues his own battle with the disease.
As the PM spent a second night in intensive care, “stable” and breathing on his own without a ventilator, the Foreign Secretary said the Cabinet is focused on the task in his absence.
But Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance warned that could mean lockdown would continue beyond the three-week review, until there were signs the peak has passed.
Although he revealed new hospital admissions “flattening off”.
As the UK death toll rose 786 to 6,159 – the highest leap yet – Mr Raab warned the worst thing the country could do was “take its foot off the pedal” by lifting restrictions.
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The 46-year-old has been asked to “deputise” for the PM “where necessary”,
He said: “I’m confident he’ll pull through. He will be back leading us through this crisis in short order. We know exactly what he wants from us and expects from us right now.
“I can reassure the Prime Minister, and we can reassure the public, that his team will not blink or flinch in the task ahead at this crucial moment.
“We will keep all of our focus and our resolve, with calm determination, to defeat the coronavirus.”
No10 refused to comment on reports the PM had been given four litres of oxygen when people are usually moved to ICU after 15 litres.
And it angrily denied claims that he was receiving any special treatment.
But while messages of goodwill flooded in for Mr Johnson, who doctors said did not have pneumonia as first feared, doubts emerged over his coronavirus strategy after Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty admitted Britain’s coronavirus testing scheme lagged way behind Germany’s.
He said: “Germany got ahead on testing. We’ve got a lot to learn from that and we’ve been trying to learn the lessons from that.”
Around one million people have been tested in Germany, compared to just 213,181 in the UK.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock had promised 100,000 checks a day, but not until the end of the month – up from around 14,000.
Intensive testing allows health services to understand how widely the virus has spread, making it easier to cope more effectively with demand on ICUs.
It can also help to inform decisions on whether to tighten or relax social-distancing measures and whether individuals are safe to return to work.
In other developments:
Mr Johnson’s health deteriorated on Monday, more than 10 days after he was first laid low.
Downing Street faced criticism for allowing him to continue working despite being desperately ill. But allies insisted he was “fitter” than he looks.
Friend Will Walden said: “He runs regularly, he doesn’t smoke, he drinks moderately. So I think if anyone is in a good position both physically and mentally to fight off the disease then the Prime Minister is that person.”
Mr Gove added: “He is receiving the best possible treatment.”
The number of new coronavirus cases in Italy is continuing to fall and China reported no deaths yesterday – the first time since the start of the outbreak. Lockdown is due to be eased in Wuhan today.
But the number of deaths in Spain and France continued to rise.