Covid-19: Key questions on lifting lockdown restrictions

It will be a significant week in the nation’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to deliver a “roadmap” to easing lockdown restrictions.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key questions surrounding the lifting of lockdown measures.

– What is the “roadmap” announcement?

On Sunday, Mr Johnson is expected to make an address to the nation detailing a “menu of options” on how the nation will exit lockdown restrictions and re-energise the economy while still suppressing the spread of the virus.

The announcement will follow the Government’s compulsory three-week review of social distancing measures on Thursday, with advisers due to give evidence to MPs on Tuesday on progress towards meeting the five tests necessary for restrictions to be lifted.

HEALTH Coronavirus
New confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK. See story HEALTH Coronavirus.

– What are the five tests?

Last month, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the easing of lockdown measures would only be considered once the nation had passed five key tests to control the pandemic.

The first test is whether Britain has the capacity to look after those seriously ill with coronavirus – which can be measured by spare beds in intensive care.

Hospitals have not been overwhelmed by patients so far in the pandemic and in most parts of the country the number of people in hospital with coronavirus is beginning to fall.

This test, therefore, appears to have been met.

The second test is a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from coronavirus.

Scientists estimate England’s daily hospital death toll peaked around April 8, and it has been very steadily falling since.

However, the picture is less clear when deaths in the community are included, with some suggestions that deaths in care homes may still be increasing.

More data is needed to be clear whether this test has been met.

The third test is the infection rate, or “R” value, staying within a manageable level.

Currently, the R value is thought to be somewhere between 0.5 and one, meaning that each person infected with the virus passes it on to fewer than one other person. But if R rises above one, there could be another exponential rise in infections.

It is likely this test has been met, but the Government will be anxious to ensure the rate of infection does not rise again.

The fourth test is that operational challenges including testing and PPE are in hand, with supply able to meet future demand.

Given the global spread of the disease, operational challenges in sourcing PPE may continue for some time.

So far, this test does not appear to have been met.

The final test concerns confidence that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections.

Any measures outlined by the prime minister in his “road map” announcement will primarily be aimed at restoring freedoms while keeping the R value below one.

– What other measures are being taken to move towards an easing of lockdown restrictions?

Besides the five tests, the biggest factor in the decision to ease lockdown restrictions is the successful uptake of the Government’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app.

NHS and council staff on the Isle of Wight are being urged to download the Covid-19 smartphone app from Tuesday with the rest of the island’s population invited to follow from Thursday.

If the tests are successful it could be rolled out across the rest of the country within weeks.

Coronavirus � Mon May 4, 2020
The Government’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app will be trialled in the Isle of Wight this week (Department of Health & Social Care/PA)

– Will social distancing need to continue after lockdown is lifted?

Some social distancing measures will persist long after lockdown measures have eased.

On Sunday, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove warned that people would have to live with “some degree of constraint” until they can be immunised against the deadly disease – suggesting Britons would have to accept a “new normal” until then.

Guidance has been prepared for businesses on how they should operate when the decision is made to ease lockdown restrictions.

Some of those measures are expected to include reduced hot-desking, closing lifts and canteens and encouraging employers to incorporate staggered shifts.

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.

However the Government has received criticism from unions over the guidance, saying there was no binding requirement on employers to ensure safety.

Rail union bosses in particular have voiced their disapproval over Government plans to increase public transport services to cope with higher demand and reduced capacity once restrictions are lifted.

In a joint letter to Government, Aslef, RMT and TSSA union bosses wrote: “We will not accept new working patterns that put the lives of railway workers and passengers at risk. To be clear – we are not convinced that there is any basis at this time for a safe escalation of services.”

In response, the Government said it was committed to further talks with unions over the issue.

Doctors have also voiced concerns over Government plans to study whether an age-based criteria could factor into lockdown decisions.

– When will the UK return to normal?

Government and health officials agree that the only certainty on when Britons will be able to return to life before coronavirus is when a vaccine is developed.

On Monday, the Prime Minister told an online conference the race to develop a vaccine was the “most urgent shared endeavour of our lifetimes”, as he called on nations to “pull together” in response to the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Global Response Summit saw world leaders pledge €7.4bn (£6.5bn) for the research and development of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, with campaigners now calling for a commitment to “universal access”.

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