United Kingdom

Hopes of lifting coronavirus lockdown fade as chancellor refuses to 'speculate about the future'

Britons were warned not to expect an imminent lifting of the coronavirus shutdown today.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed that stand-in prime minister Dominic Raab will chair the Cobra committee tomorrow morning to discuss a review, due to take place next week, of the harsh measures that have kept Britons largely stuck in their own homes for more than a fortnight.

But he suggested there would be no imminent decision, with the traditional Easter bank holiday approaching with glorious weather forecast for much of the UK.

Downing Street this morning has confirmed the draconian restrictions will not be reconsidered on Easter Monday as scheduled, with warnings the peak of the outbreak might not come for another week and a half.

And Wales ruled out lifting its own lockdown, a clear indication that other UK nations will follow suit, with First Minister Mark Drakeford saying: 'We will not throw away the gains we have made and the lives we have saved by abandoning our efforts just as they begin to bear fruit.'

At this afternoon's press conference Mr Sunak said:  'We committed there would be a review in and around three weeks, that review will be based on the evidence and data provided by Sage, which will only be available next week.

'But I think rather than speculate about the future, I think we should focus very seriously on the here and now and the present.'

 London Mayor Sadiq Khan said today that the UK was 'nowhere near' lifting the controls, while Welsh ministers disclosed their lockdown will stay in place longer. The World Health Organisation has also offered a dire warning about the 'dangerous' consequences of relaxing too early. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed that stand-in prime minister Dominic Raab will chair the Cobra committee tomorrow morning to discuss a review, due to take place next week, of the harsh measures that have kept Britons largely stuck in their own homes for more than a fortnight.

A woman sticks a poster of a rainbow, being used as a symbol of hope during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the words 'we are in this together' into a window at 10 Downing Street today

However, ministers have suggested they are keen for schools to reopen after Easter if the situation does stabilise, with claims they have little impact on the spread and could help revive the crippled economy.

Former WHO executive and Number 10 advisor reveals four-step 'exit strategy' to ease UK out of lockdown 

A former WHO executive and Number 10 advisor has today revealed his four-step strategy to ease Britain out of its draconian coronavirus lockdown.

Professor Karol Sikora, ex-director of the UN body's cancer unit and former member of the Department of Health's Expert Advisory Group on cancer, said the first step would be to let small businesses with fewer than 50 staff open again on April 27.

Downing Street should then allow all schools to reopen and ease social distancing measures rolled out across the UK on May 4, he said.

Offices, bars and restaurants could then open again on May 18, allowing millions of cooped up Brits to finally start enjoying their summer.

The final step ministers should take would be to ease restrictions on international travel and mass gatherings on June 1, Professor Sikora - who is an oncologist and not an epidemiologist (a scientist who specialises in disease outbreaks) - said.

In a message of hope to anxious Brits, he added that the lockdown is working and that 'we are flattening the curve'.

But Professor Sikora said we 'need to see an exit strategy' - and posted his opinion on 'how it could be done safely', which was praised by dozens of social media users for giving them a sense of relief.

He tweeted: 'With more testing, no mutation of the virus and compliance with the rules I think this is a feasible timetable.'

Professor Sikora warned his timeline is based on the outbreak peaking this weekend and people 'behaving themselves' and following the current rules.

Mr Sunak said the priority is to stop the spread of the virus and insisted people should follow the advice to stay at home.

On the prospect of different parts of the country emerging from the lockdown at different times, Mr Sunak said: 'I don't want to start speculating about the future.'

Prof Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, said she did not want to talk about hypothetical scenarios about 'what might be better' before adding: 'I suspect that simple strategies might well turn out to be the best to use but we'll see.'

And NHS England medical director Stephen Powis said now is not the time to become complacent.

He said: 'We are beginning to see the benefits, I believe (of following Government measures), but the really critical thing, I believe, is that we have to continue following instructions, we have to continue following social distancing, because if we don't, the virus will start to spread again.

'And if it starts to spread again in a week or two's time, we will be seeing a set of figures which are not going in the direction that we want to see them, we will see increased pressure on the NHS, we will see increased numbers of deaths.'   

Boris Johnson is 'stable' and 'responding to treatment' after a second night in intensive care, with his fever said to have dipped as he remains under constant observation at St Thomas' in central London.

However, there are fears that even the best outcome from his coronavirus struggle will see him out of action for weeks, with experts warning he could need a 'phased return' to work. 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been 'deputised' to fill in for the PM, but the potential issues caused by Mr Johnson's absence have been underlined as the crucial review of lockdown measures was postponed.

Downing Street merely said there will be a review 'on or around' the three-week mark - with the law requiring a technical extension by April 16. 

On another rollercoaster day of developments in the crisis engulfing the globe: 

The streets around Westminster were deserted today as Britons obeyed the orders from the government to stay at home

Residents in Brighton were watching the world go by from behind glass as the lockdown looks set to continue for weeks

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured in Whitehall today) has been 'deputised' to fill in for the PM, and chaired the government's daily coronavirus meeting this morning

Lack of dedicated medical support for PM 'exposed' during crisis, MP warns 

The lack of medical support for the PM has been 'exposed' during the coronavirus crisis, MPs warned today.  

Concerns have been raised about Boris Johnson care while he was in isolation, amid suggestions he was not physically monitored and only consulted a doctor by video link. 

There are claims that social distancing rules were being flouted in Downing Street as the crisis developed, with meetings in cramped rooms and people coughing freely.

Tory MP Marcus Fysh is calling for a review of the premier's medical arrangements, saying the lack of protection has been 'exposed' by the latest crisis.  

The UK leader has starkly different arrangements for their health support than in the US, where the president has a dedicated medical team and emergency facilities constantly on standby. 

Mr Fysh told MailOnline the situation was party an historical anomaly due to the different political systems.

'We've got a constitutional monarchy so the monarch is the head of states and has all of that. In America the President is head of state, so that is probably why it has come through in this way. But it is worth considering whether there should in future be special measures for health within the No10 operation.

'I had the privilege of visiting the White House a couple of years ago... all his food is cooked by the US Navy. 

'He has got a special water system that is protected and separate from the rest of the public system. It is very well organised.

'They are prepared for every eventuality there in a way I guess has been exposed that we need to think about a bit more.' 

Mr Raab stressed at the daily Downing Street briefing last night that they could not consider easing the lockdown restrictions until it was clear the peak of the epidemic had passed and it could be 'responsibly done'.

Downing Street confirmed the review would take place after the three-week mark originally committed to by Mr Johnson on March 23 - which meant by Easter Monday.

However, the emergency legislation laid before Parliament three days after the PM's announcement states that a review must take place every 21 days, with the first deadline being April 16.   

Pressed on when the review will happen, health minister Edward Argar told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'When the scientific advice is such that we appear to have gone over the peak and it is safe to do so.'  

London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that an easing of the restrictions could be a long way off. 'I think we are nowhere near lifting the lockdown,' he told the BBC.

'We think the peak, which is the worst part of the virus, is still probably a week and a half away.' 

WHO regional director Hans Kluge said in an update that relaxing lockdown too early would be 'dangerous'.

'We still have a long way to go in the marathon and the progress we have made so far in fighting the virus is extremely fragile,' he said. 

'To think we are coming close to an end point would be a dangerous thing to do. The virus leaves no room for error or complacency.

'Any shift in our response strategy, relaxing of lockdown status or physical distancing measures requires very careful consideration.' 

But a minister told the Times that reopening schools should be one of the first moves in easing then lockdown. 

Experts have said the closures are likely only to have a limited effect on the spread, and mean much of the workforce are tied up with childcare.

'We need to be led by the science, of course,' the minister said. 

But if we can reopen schools after the Easter holidays things could begin to get back to normal. It could kick-start the economy.' 

There was cautious optimism from chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance last night that the fight against Covid-19 'could be moving in the right direction'.  

Sir Patrick said there were signs that the rates of new infections and new hospital admissions for Covid-19 were 'flattening off'.

But he added it would be another 'week or so' before they could be sure, indicating lockdown measures would not be eased before then.

Chris Whitty and Matt Hancock were in Downing Street for the daily crisis meeting today

In interviews today, health minister Edward Argar said lockdown could only be reviewed 'when the scientific advice is such that we appear to have gone over the peak and it is safe to do so'

There are tight limits on Mr Raab's control of government, as he cannot hire or fire ministers and will not have audiences with the Queen, although No10 insists the UK's military response and nuclear deterrent have not been compromised. 

Downing has given an update on the premier's condition, saying he is still 'stable' and 'responding to treatment'. His 'persistent' temperature has reportedly finally dropped while he has been in hospital, although the spokesman would not confirm.  

Mr Johnson's official spokesman said he continues to receive 'standard oxygen treatment' and is 'breathing without any other assistance' - making clear he is not on a ventilator.

'The Prime Minister remains clinically stable and is responding to treatment,' the spokesman said.

'He continues to be cared for in the intensive care unit at St Thomas's Hospital. He's in good spirits.  

No10 confirmed that the PM has not been doing any work, although they said he has been in contact with aides.

Concerns have emerged about the PM's care while he was in isolation, amid suggestions he was not physically monitored and only consulted a doctor by video link. 

The UK leader has starkly different arrangements for their health support than in the US, where the president has a dedicated medical team and emergency facilities constantly on standby. 

Tory MP Marcus Fysh is calling for a review of the premier's medical arrangements, saying the lack of protection has been 'exposed' by the latest crisis.  

The UK leader has starkly different arrangements for their health support than in the US, where the president has a dedicated medical team and emergency facilities constantly on standby. 

Mr Fysh told MailOnline the situation was party an historical anomaly due to the different political systems.

'We've got a constitutional monarchy so the monarch is the head of states and has all of that. In America the President is head of state, so that is probably why it has come through in this way. But it is worth considering whether there should in future be special measures for health within the No10 operation.

Paramedics were at work at the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital at the ExCel centre in London today

A cleaning van was in Downing Street today as the Prime Minister remains under observation in St Thomas' hospital nearby 

'I had the privilege of visiting the White House a couple of years ago... all his food is cooked by the US Navy. 

'He has got a special water system that is protected and separate from the rest of the public system. It is very well organised.

'They are prepared for every eventuality there in a way I guess has been exposed that we need to think about a bit more.' 

Mr Raab said he is 'confident' the PM will pull through after a worsening of his coronavirus symptoms. 

He said that ministers would not 'blink or flinch' from following the instructions Mr Johnson had set out before he was admitted to hospital.

But he appeared reluctant to say whether he would be prepared to take a decision to break with the PM's strategy while he was still in hospital if he believed a change of direction was necessary.

'He's asked me to deputise for him for as long as is necessary, but the normal Cabinet collective responsibility and principles that inform that will apply,' he said.

President Donald Trump claimed overnight that the UK was 'desperate' for ventilators and had called the US with an urgent plea for 200 to treat the sickest patients.

'We're going to work it out, we've got to work it out,' he said. 'They've been great partners. They wanted 200, they need them desperately.' 

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, finally admitted yesterday that the UK needed to learn from the example of Germany where the number of deaths appeared to be growing more slowly.

'We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus and there's a lot to learn from that and we've been trying to learn the lessons from that,' he said.

The latest official figures from the Department of Health showed that 6,159 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Monday - an increase of 786 on the previous day.

However, Sir Patrick said there were signs the number of new cases 'could be moving in the right direction'.

'It's possible that we're beginning to see the beginning of change in terms of the curve flattening a little bit. We won't know that for sure for a week or so,' he said.

World Health Organization expert warns against ending strict lockdowns in Europe and says it is 'dangerous' to think the 'marathon' crisis is slowing 

Dr Hans Kluge, the UN body's regional director for Europe, described the current situation on the continent as 'concerning'

A World Health Organization (WHO) expert today warned against lifting strict lockdowns in place across Europe and said it was 'dangerous' to think the crisis is slowing down. 

Dr Hans Kluge, the UN body's regional director for Europe, described the current situation on the continent as 'very concerning', adding: 'Now is not the time to relax measures.'

Around half of the 1.4million COVID-19 cases recorded around the world have been in Europe, with Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the UK the five hardest-hit nations.

In a press briefing this morning, Dr Kluge said: 'To think we are coming close to an end point is a dangerous thing to do.

'The virus leaves no room for complacency. Relaxing lockdown measures requires careful consideration.'

He added the upcoming Easter weekend was 'not the time' to relax restrictions, despite the promise of good weather across much of Europe.

Dr Kluge said: 'This is not the time to lower our guard. We must soldier on. We are in this together and we will get through this together.'

Downing Street today confirmed it had delayed its decision to review the draconian lockdown implemented two weeks ago to curb the spread of the virus. 

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