Planning is underway on how to ease the coronavirus lockdown, Downing Street has announced.
The prime minister’s spokesman confirmed preparatory work is already happening on how the social distancing measures introduced at the end of March can eventually be eased.
Labour has supported an extension of the three-week emergency “stay at home” rules but called on the government to be “transparent” and publish its strategy for returning life as close to normal as possible.
Dominic Raab, who is filling in for Boris Johnson while he recovers from COVID-19, said on Thursday while there is “light at the end of the tunnel”, scrapping restrictions too soon could risk a second peak.
He outlined five tests that need to be met first:
- Make sure the NHS can cope by providing sufficient critical care across the UK
- See a sustained and consistent fall in daily death rates with confidence the UK is beyond the peak
- Have reliable data to show the infection rate is falling to manageable levels
- Have enough testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) to meet future demand
- Make sure any changes in restrictions would not lead to a second peak
The prime minister’s spokesman has now confirmed that “work is taking place across Whitehall in readiness for the point where we are able to relax social distancing measures”.
But they cautioned: “For now, it’s important that the public remains focused on people staying at home.”
It came as a leading physician cautioned the UK will face “further waves” of coronavirus and will probably have the highest death rate in Europe – up to 40,000 – because the government was “too slow” to act initially.
Professor Anthony Costello, of University College London’s Institute for Global Health, told a committee of MPs that the “harsh reality” is that “we were too slow with a number of things”.
“If we’re going to suppress the chain of transmission of this virus in the next stage we all hope that the national lockdown and social distancing will bring about a large suppression of the epidemic so far – but we’re going to face further waves,” he said.
“And so we need to make sure that we have a system in place that cannot just do a certain number of tests in the laboratory, but has a system at district and community level.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford spelt out more detail of what he wanted to do in the build up to any softening of restrictions.
He called for public health surveillance measures to be put in place during the current lockdown extension so if more outbreaks appear they can be contained quickly.
And he urged the UK government to learn from other countries already easing measures what is and isn’t working, by being “well-informed by what is happening elsewhere”.
“As we look beyond the next three weeks we look to the moment where the lockdown will begin to ease and eventually to end,” he said at a news conference.
“The way we want to do that in Wales is by working together towards that day.”
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