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Friday, 1 May 2020

UK Ministers Warn Lockdown Needs To Stay Until New Cases Drop Below 1,000 A Day - Which Could Take MONTHS


Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds the Digital Cabinet Meeting in 10 Downing Street on Thursday. The total number of new coronavirus deaths in all settings was 674 on Thursday, down from 765 the previous day, but there was a leap in the number of new cases to 6,032 from 4,076 on the day before.
Ministers have warned lockdown may need to remain in place for months until the number of new cases falls below 1,000 per day after Professor Chris Whitty raised the spectre of a second peak far worse than the first. The total number of new coronavirus deaths in all settings was 674 on Thursday, down from 765 the previous day, but there was a leap in the number of new cases to 6,032 from 4,076 on the day before. 

Although this was in part down to increased testing, ministers say they want daily infections down to the hundreds before any easing of the lockdown, reports said. Britain has not been down in the hundreds since March 23. In his first Downing Street briefing since leaving intensive care, Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street yesterday) said he would outline a 'menu of options' next week for how the UK could roll off the peak which he said we had past. He claimed that efforts to bolster the NHS had avoided a 'reasonable worst-case scenario' of 500,000 deaths if we hadn't locked down. 

But he dashed hopes of any premature easing of restrictions, saying that if the 'R' value - the reproductive rate of the virus - was allowed to rise above one, the outbreak would rise again. Germany's surging infection rate as a result of easing its measures - when its daily rate was far lower than ours at 2,000 - is understood to have sparked deep concern among ministers. It comes as Prof Whitty (top right) warned that 'Covid-19 is a very long way from finished and eradication is technically impossible for this disease' which could batter us again in the colder months. England's chief medical officer told an online lecture: 'It's not just in Game Of Thrones that winter is always coming ... the winter is always worse than summer, spring and autumn for health services.' 


He claimed that efforts to bolster the NHS had avoided a 'reasonable worst-case scenario' of 500,000 deaths if we hadn't locked down. But he dashed hopes of any premature easing of restrictions, saying that if the 'R' value (the reproductive rate of the virus) was allowed to rise above one, the outbreak would arise again.   


Germany's surging infection rate as a result of easing its measures - when its daily rate was far lower than ours at 2,000 - is understood to have sparked deep concern among ministers.

It comes as Prof Whitty warned that 'Covid-19 is a very long way from finished and eradication is technically impossible for this disease' which could batter us again in the colder months.

England's chief medical officer told an online lecture: 'It's not just in Game Of Thrones that winter is always coming ... the winter is always worse than summer, spring and autumn for health services.'

And he echoed the Prime Minister's sentiments on the R value (now between 0.6 and 0.9), saying that if it was not held below one then we were bound for another vicious tsunami of the contagion. 


Prof Whitty said: 'We need to make sure that R does not go back above one. Because if not we will go back to a second wave. It is entirely plausible for a second wave to actually be more severe than the first if it is not mitigated.'   

Addressing the public from behind the podium for the first time in five weeks, Mr Johnson accepted there have been problems with issues such as PPE supplies for frontline staff.

But he insisted: 'At no stage has our NHS been overwhelmed, no patient went without a ventilator, no patient was deprived of intensive care, we have five of the seven projected Nightingale wards.

'It is thanks to that massive collective effort to shield the NHS that we avoided an uncontrollable and catastrophic epidemic where the reasonable worst-case scenario was 500,000 deaths.

'I can confirm today that for the first time we are past the peak of this disease.

'We are past the peak and on the downward slope... We have come through the peak.

'Or rather we have come under what could have been a vast peak.

'As though we have been going through some huge Alpine tunnel.

'And we can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us.'  

Mr Johnson said he did not want to 'protract' the lockdown any further and the government is working on 'ingenious' solutions to get the economy running.

'Until this day comes (when an inoculation is ready), and we cannot say exactly when this will be, we are going to have to beat this disease by our growing resolve and ingenuity,' said the PM.

'I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, our children back to school and into childcare, and thirdly how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safer.

'In short, how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.'  

Mr Johnson said: 'What you are going to get next week is really a road map, a menu of options - the dates and times of each individual measure will be very much driven by where we are in the epidemic, what the data is really saying and we are getting in a lot more data every day now and in the course of the next few days.'

In a reference to his own struggle against the disease - which he previously admitted could have gone 'either way' - Mr Johnson said the government's main aim was always to 'save lives'.  'I was very, very lucky,' he said. 'I had wonderful carers, wonderful treatment, and, let's be frank, tragically, thousands of people have been less fortunate than I was.

'And, that's why the objective of this Government is to save lives across the country.'

He said: 'Families every day are continuing to lose loved ones before their time, we grieve for them and with them, but as we grieve, we are strengthened in our resolve to defeat this virus to get this whole country back to health, back on its feet.'

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon jumped the gun at a briefing in Edinburgh earlier, saying she believed it would be 'too early' when the formal review happens next week to lift restrictions 'in any meaningful way'. She also voiced alarm that people were already starting to flout the social distancing rules - revealing traffic was up 10 per cent in the past week in some parts of Scotland. 
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan delivered an even bleaker assessment, warning there will be 'no return to life as it was' and suggesting it will be a long time before bars and restaurants can reopen.  
Despite the hard line in public, frantic work has been going on behind the scenes to develop an 'exit plan'. Island communities with controllable transport links are set to be used to trial ways of loosening restrictions while ramping up community testing. The Isle of Wight will be among the first pilot sites.    
Mr Johnson's appearance at the press briefing tonight will be his first since resuming charge at Downing Street on Monday, and will come less than 36 hours after his fiancee Carrie Symonds gave birth to their son. 
The premier has delayed his paternity leave until later in the year as the country struggles to fight off the coronavirus outbreak. 
At the briefing in Edinburgh today, Ms Sturgeon said: 'It may very well be too early even this time next week in any meaningful way to safely lift the current restrictions... 
'The margins we have for making sure the virus doesn't take off again are really really tight.'
She said overall traffic in Scotland was up 5 per cent over the past week, even though it is still less than a third of pre-lockdown levels.
'In some of our town and city roads traffic has been 10 per cent higher than in the week before,' she said.

'You might think it is only you making an extra journey, and it is only one trip. And you might feel you deserve it after weeks of restraint. Believe me, I really understand all of that.
She asked people to think about if they were now 'a little more active' than they had been at the start of lockdown.
'But all of it adds up. And if everybody starts easing off, the virus will quickly take off again and it will have devastating consequences for all of us.' 
Writing in the Evening Standard, Mr Khan took an even harder line. 'There will be no return to life as it was – instead we face a 'new normal' even once lockdown is eased,' he wrote. 
'We may be able to occasionally see our closest loved ones – but interactions will be limited and for a while there will be no larger gatherings. 
'While non-essential shops will be able to reopen after introducing social distancing measures, it is difficult to see how this can safely be extended to bars, restaurants or social spaces in a practicable way soon. 
'And most people who are currently able to work from home will need to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.' 
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said in interviews this morning that the mood among ministers was 'extreme caution'.  
He said: 'I think the common thread between the Governments is one of extreme caution following the evidence of the Sage committee, making sure that we don't do anything in a premature way that could risk a second spike. That would be a disaster.' 
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'I think, within Government, there is already a lot of work going on as to what the future is going to look like - I think it would be a dereliction of duty if we didn't do that.
'Certainly in my department, I'm looking ahead now to the medium term as to what the summer and autumn are going to look like in the prison and court system. We've got to start that work, in fact the work is already under way.

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