Coronavirus lockdown to remain in place for at least another three weeks
Dominic Raab and Nicola Sturgeon have confirmed that the coronavirus lockdown will stay in place for at least another three weeks, warning that easing off now risks a second wave of the deadly illness.
The Foreign Secretary, who is still standing in for Boris Johnson as he recovers from the disease, said there was "light at the end of the tunnel" as the number of new cases continues to flatten.
But he warned relaxing strict social distancing measures now would “give the coronavirus a second chance” and put thousands of lives at risk in a deadly second peak of infections.
Raab said the "very clear advice" from experts on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) was that the lockdown must stay in place at least for another three weeks.
He was speaking as the number of people who had died in the UK from COVID-19 rose by another 861 to 13,729.
In Scotland there have been 7,102 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with 1,799 in hospital, 196 in intensive care and 779 deaths.
Addressing the latest Downing Street press conference, the First Secretary of State said: "Any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.
"That would threaten a second peak of the virus and substantially increase the number of deaths.
"It would undo the progress we have made to date, and as a result would require an even longer period of the more restrictive social distancing measures."
He added: "The worst thing that we could do right now is to ease up too soon, allow a second peak of the virus to hit the NHS and hit the British people.
"It would be the worst outcome for our economy and for the country as a whole."
Raab also said any decision to begin relaxing the current restrictions would depend on five criteria: the NHS's ability to cope, a consistent fall in death rates and infection rates, enough protective equipment for frontline staff to meet demand and that easing off would not risk another wave of the virus.
The minister said the UK Government appreciated the "considerable" impact the lockdown was having on many people, but insisted there was no alternative to keeping it in place at the moment.
In a direct message to the British people, he said: "I know that together, united, we must keep up this national effort for a while longer.
"We’ve just come too far and lost too many loved ones, already sacrificed far too much to ease up now, especially when we’re beginning to see the evidence that our efforts are starting to pay off.
"Your efforts are paying off. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re now at both a delicate and a dangerous stage in this pandemic.
"If we rush to relax the measures that we have in place, we would risk wasting all the sacrifices and all the progress that has been made and that would risk a quick return to another lockdown, with all the threat to life that a second peak of the virus would bring, and all the economic damage that a second lockdown would carry.
"So we need to be patient for a while longer. It’s been an incredible national team effort.
“Now is not the moment to give the coronavirus a second chance.
"Let’s stick together, let’s see this through and let’s defeat the coronavirus for good."
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said the data showed there was a "flattening and possibly signs of decrease" in the number of new coronavirus cases in the UK.
He also said hospital admissions were falling in some parts of the country.
However, Vallance admitted there were still concerns that the virus was spreading more widely in some hospitals and care homes than in the community as a whole.
At her daily lunchtime briefing, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also warned that lifting the lockdown now could lead to a second wave of the virus.
She said: “Although we do believe these restrictions are having the desired effect, we're not yet confident that transmission has slowed sufficiently to ease up on them.
“Our advice is clear that if we were to lift any of these restrictions now, we would risk an immediate and potentially exponential resurgence of the virus.
“This could result in our NHS being quickly overwhelmed, it could result in even more cases in our care homes and it would also mean much more loss of life.
“It could also lead to the reintroduction of even more stringent measures, which substantially more damage to the economy as a result.
“I hope you all agree, this is a risk we simply cannot take.”