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Lockdown measures could be reintroduced locally if required, warns Michael Gove

Victoria Jones/PA

Lockdown measures could be reintroduced locally if required, warns Michael Gove

Lockdown measures could be reintroduced “in a specific and localised way” if easing them results in an uptick of coronavirus cases, Michael Gove has said.

The Cabinet Office minister said the UK Government would not oversee a rapid return “to the old normal” when Boris Johnson sets out his latest thinking on easing the strict curbs on movement later this week.

And he suggested different regions of the UK could see measures imposed again if a rise in cases followed the initial lifting of the restrictions.

The Prime Minister has promised to set out “a comprehensive plan... to explain how we can get our economy moving” in the coming days, including details on how children might be able to gradually return to school and businesses might reopen while following social distancing guidance.

Ministers are now focusing their efforts on keeping the ‘R value’ - the number of people each person with coronavirus infects - below one as they weigh up lifting lockdown measures.

NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis on Sunday confirmed that the R rate currently stands at “around 0.7” - although he made clear that “throughout the country in different settings it will be slightly different”.

And Gove said: “The British public have shown amazing stoicisim and understanding of the need for the lockdown measures. 

“And, quite rightly, they want to ensure that if and when they are eased that they are eased in a way that makes sure that the British people’s sacrifice has been worthwhile and that we continue to operate in a way which means that public health comes first.”

He added: “It’s also important that we make clear that any approach we take is staged, that we’re not, as the first minister of Scotland said, flicking a switch and going from one situation back to the old normal. 

“A phased approach is one which allows us to monitor the impact that those changes are having on public health and, if necessary, in a specific and localised way that means that we can pause or even reintroduce those restrictions that may be required in order to deal with localised outbreaks of the disease.”

Gove’s comments come after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed that his own department is considering bringing in “hand sanitiser, one-way systems, [and] spacing on platforms” in a bid to prevent the spread of the disease on public transport.

But he cautioned against expecting a return to “business as usual” when the Prime Minister sets out his thinking at the end of this week.

Elsewhere at the daily press conference, Gove confirmed that levels of daily testing for Covid-19 had against slipped below the 100,000-a-day target Health Secretary Matt Hancock set himself for the end of April.

Hancock on Friday claimed victory in his quest to improve Britain’s testing levels, with 122,347 carried out in the 24 hours up to 9am on May 1.

But the latest figures show 76,496 tests were carried out in the most recent 24-hour period - a drop of more than a third on Friday’s level.

Gove told reporters that the UK Government would be prepared to “ask ourselves some deep and probing questions” about its initial response to the coronavirus once the immediate crisis had passed, as he heaped praise on the “amazing achievement of Matt Hancock, [health minister] Jim Bethell, our NHS and others” in increasing testing capacity.

“Undoubtedly this government, like all governments, will have made mistakes,” he said.

“But it will be impossible to determine exactly which were the areas of gravest concern until some time in the future when we have all the information we need.”

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