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Thursday, 30 April 2020

UK Lockdown until JUNE: Boris Johnson is set to dash hopes of an early end to coronavirus curbs as he gathers Cabinet for 'exit plan' says a second spike would be a 'disaster

Boris Johnson is set to dash hopes of an early end to coronavirus curbs
Boris Johnson is set to signal lockdown will stay until June today as he gathers Cabinet to thrash out an 'exit strategy' - and then fronts a daily coronavirus briefing for the first time since falling ill. The Prime Minister (pictured left in No10 yesterday) is expected to dash hopes of an imminent end to the draconian curbs crippling the economy, stressing that allowing the killer disease to run rampant again would do even worse damage. 

Government sources have indicated he will also defy calls to treat the public like 'grown-ups' by spelling out ways in which the lockdown might be eased, saying it is 'too early'. Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said in interviews this morning (top right) that the mood among ministers was 'extreme caution', endorsing a strong hint from Nicola Sturgeon (bottom right) that restrictions will be extended for another three weeks when the formal review takes place on May 7. However, frantic work has been going on behind the scenes to develop an 'exit plan', with suggestions island communities could be used as 'pilot' sites.


Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said in interviews this morning that the mood among ministers was 'extreme caution', endorsing a strong hint from Nicola Sturgeon that restrictions will be extended for another three weeks when the formal review takes place on May 7. 
Boris Johnson arriving back at Downing Street from hospital after the birth of his baby son with his partner Carrie Symonds yesterday
However, frantic work has been going on behind the scenes to develop an 'exit plan', with suggestions island communities with controllable transport links could be used to trial ways of loosening restrictions while ramping up community testing. The Isle of Wight has been mooted as a location for a pilot site. Discussions have also been ongoing about targeting regions with specific measures, with Cornwall considered easier to isolate.  
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. 
In other developments with no end in sight to the crisis:
  • A report has warned that London's transport network could be crippled when the UK eases lockdown measures after TfL furloughed 7,000 staff; 
  • Ministers have admitted that the government will 'probably' miss Matt Hancock's target for carrying out 100,000 tests a day; 
  • Fresh questions have been raised about the SAGE group amid claims that it has been influenced by politicians and senior officials; 
  • NHS fundraising hero Tom Moore has been promoted to colonel and honoured with an RAF flypast to mark his 100th birthday;
  • Top surgeons have warned thousands of people will die of Covid-19 if Britain's strict lockdown is lifted at this stage, saying the NHS must not be used as a 'punchbag' to avoid economic damage; 
  • Germany has said its coronavirus reproduction rate is 0.76, well below the growth level of one, despite fears over easing of curbs. But scientists have warned the UK has less room to manoeuvre on lockdown because it has far fewer intensive care beds   
Boris Johnson arriving back at Downing Street from hospital after the birth of his baby son with his partner Carrie Symonds yesterday
Boris Johnson arriving back at Downing Street from hospital after the birth of his baby son with his partner Carrie Symonds yesterday

The Cabinet will meet this morning to discuss 'phase two,' but it has become increasingly clear that Mr Johnson will have to dash any hopes of ending the lockdown soon. 
Mr Buckland said Scottish First Minister Ms Sturgeon was 'right to be cautious' in her warning that measures are unlikely to be eased on the next review date of May 7.
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.
'That's, of course, not saying that we're suddenly going to move into a new phase - we need to be absolutely sure that the five tests that were set out some weeks ago are going to be met, and in particular the need to avoid that second or even third spike in the disease is clear to me both in terms of health and the well-being of the economy as well.'
One No10 source said of Mr Johnson's message: 'It will very much be in the area of how we satisfy our five tests for coming out of lockdown, chief among which is making sure we don't risk another exponential rise in infections.
'It's still too early to be setting out any details of what any easing of the lockdown might look like.'
On ITV's Peston show last night, Ms Sturgeon - who attends Cobra emergency committee meetings - continued her habit of preempting the Westminster government's moves. 
'People talk about lifting the lockdown — that is not going to be a flick of the switch moment,' she said. 
'We're going to have to be very careful, very slow, very gradual. I'm far from convinced at this stage that when we get to the next review point on May 7, we'll be in a position to lift any of these measures right now. 
'Because the margins of manoeuvre that we're operating in right now are very, very, very tight and narrow.' 
Data published yesterday showed that Britain has one of the world's worst coronavirus death rates, better only than Spain and Belgium per capita.
Revised UK figures including deaths outside hospitals showed that there have been nine days when the death toll topped 1,000 - ranging from April 7 to as recently as April 24. 
Dominic Raab pointed to the perils of a premature easing, noting that Germany, though it contained the virus commendably, has now seen a surge in transmission since opening back up.
'Chancellor Merkel has made it clear that they might need a second lockdown in Germany if the infection rate continues to rise,' the Foreign Secretary said at the Downing Street briefing. 
Despite the tough public messages, there is evidence of a wider move to get more of the economy up and running.
DIY stores, fast food chains, coffee shops and garden centres have been scaling up their activities.
Councils have also been told by ministers to reopen rubbish tips. 
Ministers are working on a series of workplace guides detailing how they could look once the lockdown is eased.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma has asked officials to produce advice on how a gradual return to work could be managed safely for seven different kinds of workplace including offices, factories and construction sites.
Firms will be told to shut canteens and other communal spaces, as well as operating new shift patterns to allow for social distancing and limit the pressure on public transport at rush hour.
Office staff are likely to be encouraged to continue working from home where possible.
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said a partial reopening of schools was 'in the mix' but it was 'premature' to expect early action given the difficulty of social distancing in them.
One Whitehall source said the three-weekly review of lockdown measures, due on May 7, would involve only modest changes at best.
'We are looking at whether we can undo the top button and make things more comfortable in one or two places for the economy,' the source added. 'But any idea of a widespread lifting is plain wrong.' 

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