The first NHS Nightingale field hospital is to be placed on standby and plans are being drawn up for workplaces to reopen as the UK edges towards life beyond the coronavirus peak.
Officials said the decision to mothball the hospital in London’s ExCeL centre was a “positive thing” because it showed the coronavirus crisis in the capital was easing.
But the hospital will remain ready to receive coronavirus patients again if cases rise once social distancing measures are eased.
Meanwhile, guidance is being prepared for businesses on how they should operate when the decision is made to ease lockdown restrictions.
The time to move onto the second phase will be once we have met the 5 tests.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) May 4, 2020
The Government has to review the current measures by May 7 and, while the current measures are not expected to be lifted, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to set out a “roadmap” on Sunday setting out the next steps.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has been closely involved in Cobra meetings determining the strategy, said it was “very likely” the lockdown would continue as the infection rate was too high to make “any meaningful change”.
Mr Johnson said on Twitter: “We will only be able to move onto the second phase of this conflict if our five tests have been met.”
The tests are: that the NHS must have sufficient critical care capacity; there must be a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths; the infection rate must be decreasing to “manageable levels”; there must be enough PPE and testing supply; and any adjustments must not lead to a second peak which could overwhelm the health service.
Some 28,446 people have died with coronavirus, including at least 130 frontline NHS and care workers.
Mr Johnson said: “The worst thing we could do now is ease up too soon and allow a second peak of coronavirus.”
Whitehall officials hope that lockdown measures can be eased across the UK at the same time, something that would require the agreement of the devolved administrations.
Once the measures are eased, a “test, track and trace” programme using a specially-developed app would help monitor outbreaks of the virus.
Further details of the plan are expected to be set out by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Matthew Gould of NHSX – the digital unit of the NHS developing the software – at the Downing Street briefing on Monday.
Where outbreaks are detected, officials are examining ways of imposing targeted regional lockdowns to prevent the virus spreading out of control.
“What potentially could happen is that if you were to see spikes in the disease in specific regions of the country you could reimpose some of the social distancing restrictions on a regional basis,” a senior Government source said.
Guidance to firms on reopening is expected to include reduced hot-desking, the closure of office lifts and canteens, and putting tape on the floor to mark where people should stand in order to maintain social distancing.
Draft documents from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), seen by the BBC and the Financial Times, say extra cleaning should be introduced in office spaces and the use of protective equipment should be considered where maintaining a distance of two metres between workers is not possible.
For workers who have customer-facing roles, plastic screens should be erected to help protect them, while continued home working and staggered shifts should also be encouraged, the guidance says.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s too early to get into the specifics of what advice will be given to businesses but we are considering a variety of ways to ensure safe working and give UK workers the confidence to return to work while getting the economy moving again.
“We are consulting with business leaders, representative organisations and trade unions on this and will provide the guidance to businesses operating different types of workplaces at the right time.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said a “range of methods” including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and shields could allow people to be less than two metres apart for periods.
Business leaders said clarity is needed on issues such as PPE and whether firms can be held liable even if they fulfil their obligations to protect employees from coronavirus.
️✍️As @GOVUK prepares to outline its plans to gradually reopen the economy, our President, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, says that "this is a time to be bold."
— BCC (@britishchambers) May 3, 2020
Director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They (bosses) will want to know that they’re not going to be held liable for horrible things that may unfortunately happen if they’ve done everything in their power to keep their people safe.”
In other developments:
– Mr Wallace said the Government has been “trying to source as many masks as possible” in case guidance for their use by the public changes
– Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a package of support worth almost £3 billion to help universities weather the coronavirus crisis
– Former Government chief scientific adviser Sir David King hosted a meeting of experts on Monday in response to concerns over the “lack of transparency” coming from the Sage group of Government advisers
Mr Johnson is expected to face Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, having missed previous encounters due to his battle with coronavirus and the birth of his son, Wilfred.
The Prime Minister told The Sun he feared he might not live to meet Wilfred as doctors battled to control his Covid-19.
He said: “We’ve all got a lot to live for, a lot to do, and I won’t hide it from you, I was thinking about that, yes.”