The coronavirus lockdown measures are likely to be extended beyond three weeks, a Cabinet minister has said, as senior figures dealing with the response are set to discuss a review of the restrictions.
After Boris Johnson spent a third night in intensive care, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will deputise for him by chairing a Cobra emergency committee on Thursday afternoon to discuss the lockdown measures with leaders of the devolved nations.
No decision is expected to be made at that meeting in the Prime Minister’s absence, with key figures dealing with the response instead discussing whether to ease or strengthen the measures ahead of an announcement next week.
With Wednesday seeing a rise of 938 in the number of deaths in hospitals of patients who tested positive for Covid-19, the highest new total so far – and the Prime Minister still in hospital, there seems little chance of the lockdown being lifted.
However, the restrictions face their toughest test so far over the Easter weekend, with temperatures set to reach 25C (77F) in some parts of the country – which could tempt more people to break the stay-at-home rules.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden urged the public not to give up on the measures during the test of the long weekend as he predicted they would not be eased next week.
“I don’t think it’s very likely these measures are going to be changed given they’re just starting to have an effect but, as we said, we would review them,” he told BBC News.
“It’s only prudent that on an ongoing basis we review them after three weeks.”
Despite the warm and sunny weather, remember to #StayHomeSaveLives
This satellite image shows many places have had sunshine today. It reached 23.9 °C at Herstmonceux, East Sussex, making it the warmest day of the year so far pic.twitter.com/VnI8LDXhCq
— Met Office (@metoffice) April 8, 2020
Wales has already announced an extension of lockdown measures, and Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said there is “virtually zero prospect” of experts advising UK-wide measures can be eased yet.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to “speculate” about the future of the lockdown, instead confirming there would be a review of the measures “in and around three weeks” after they started.
The three-week mark will be reached on Easter Monday, while legislation designed to assist with the containment must also be reviewed at least once every 21 days – with the first due to be carried out by April 16 at the latest.
Mr Sunak sidestepped questions about the prospect of different parts of the UK emerging from the lockdown at different times.
Deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean, addressing the same question, said she suspected “simple strategies might well turn out to be the best to use”.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said Britons have responded “really well” to the measures but told ITV’s Peston: “It’s not a case of just throwing that away but in making sure, as we have done every step of the way in our plan, we listen to our experts, we come to a judgment and more of that will be discussed (on Thursday).”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford earlier said the lockdown will not end in Wales next week, insisting “we will not throw away the gains” by “abandoning our efforts just as they begin to bear fruit”.
Debate about the lockdown took place as Downing Street offered more hopeful news about the Prime Minister.
Number 10 said Mr Johnson remains in intensive care but is making “steady progress”, with further updates expected on Thursday.
Mr Sunak said the PM was “sitting up in bed” and “engaging positively” with the medics treating him for Covid-19 at St Thomas’s Hospital in London on Wednesday.
But the boost came as the nation saw its record number of deaths in hospitals, with a rise of 938 taking the toll to at least 7,097, according to Department of Health figures.
Though significantly larger than the previous highest toll of 786, Prof McLean said new cases are not “accelerating out of control”.