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UK coronavirus lockdown unlikely to be lifted soon, says foreign secretary

Dominic Raab insists UK is ‘starting to win’ in battle against virus

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 13 April 2020 19:20 BST
Government 'doesn't expect' coronavirus lockdown to be lifted this week

Ministers are not expecting to lift the lockdown this week despite “positive signs” of progress in the UK’s battle against coronavirus, Dominic Raab has said.

The foreign secretary, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while he convalesces, said restrictions were unlikely to be eased when the government’s scientific advisory committee meets later this week, as the evidence showed the UK has “still not passed the peak” of the outbreak.

But Mr Raab insisted the UK was “starting to win” in its battle against the virus, as the public were overwhelmingly observing the strict social-distancing guidelines put in place by ministers.

His comments come ahead of the review of the three-week lockdown, which was first announced by Mr Johnson on 23 March.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Raab said: “We don’t expect to make any changes to the measures currently in place at that point and we won’t until we’re confident, as confident as we realistically can be, that any such changes can be safely made.”

Some 11,329 people have died from coronavirus in the UK, an increase of more than 700 since Sunday, when the death toll exceeded 10,000 for the first time.

Mr Raab said: “Amidst this sobering death toll, there are also some positive signs from the data that we are starting to win this struggle, but we have still got a long way to go and as those grisly figures I just read out show, we’re still not past the peak of this virus.”

However, he refused to give details of the government’s exit strategy, simply saying: “It’s absolutely crucially important that we do not take our eye off the ball or the public’s focus on the thing that has been a success so far in relative terms – which is our ability through widespread support for our social-distancing measures to deprive this virus of the means to spread.”

The foreign secretary praised the “overwhelming majority” of people for staying home over the Easter bank holiday weekend, which surprised ministers who were afraid the social-distancing advice might be ignored.

“By staying home this weekend, you’ve saved lives,” Mr Raab said.

“Thank you, your efforts are making all the difference. And please keep them up – we’ve come too far, we’ve lost too many loved ones and we’ve sacrificed too much to ease up now.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, warned that deaths were expected to continue to rise over the coming week before reaching a plateau as social-distancing measures begin to slow the outbreak.

He said the UK is “following the same sort of path” as Italy with the number of hospital deaths from Covid-19, adding: “I think this week we are going to see a further increase, thereafter we should see a plateau as the effects of social-distancing come through.

“That plateau may last for some time and begin to decrease.”

Earlier, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, signalled that the lockdown was unlikely to be lifted this week.

“There are early optimistic signs that the steps we are taking are working but until we know more, until we have solid evidence, we must stick with it,” she said.

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