Dominic Raab has announced the UK’s lockdown will continue in place for at least three more weeks.
“Any change to our social distancing measures now could contribute to a significant increase in the spread of the virus,” the acting Prime Minister told the daily Downing Street briefing on coronavirus.
He warned that an earlier relaxation would do more damage to the economy than good, because it would result in some form of lockdown continuing for a longer period.
“The advice from SAGE is that relaxing any of the measures currently in place would risk damage to public health and our economy,” he said.
Mr Raab, ordinarily Foreign Secretary, said the Government needed to be satisfied of five things before loosening of restrictions could be considered
These tests include confidence in the NHS’s ability to provide critical care across the UK, a sustained fall in death rate, a fall in infection rate, improvements to testing and PPE provision, and no risk of a second peak.
“There are indications that the measures that we put in place have been successful in slowing down the spread of this virus,” he said.
Mr Raab said that SAGE, the Government’s scientific advisory group, reported a “mixed and inconsistent picture”, and that in some settings, infections are likely to be increasing, although in the community at large, the disease is not being passed on at a rate that would grow the number of current cases day by day.
The risk of losing control of the pandemic or a second wave of infections is behind the Government’s decision to maintain the lockdown.
Singapore, held up as a beacon of best practice for tackling the pandemic, had been able to return to largely normal life by the time the UK was coming under a strict lockdown last month.
But it has been struck by a second wave of infections, with 124 positive diagnoses in one day.
The return of Covid-19 took its government by surprise and led to a new lockdown. Last week, it enforced a partial lockdown as it struggles to contain a sharp rise in cases.
The country has introduced “circuit breaker” measures and shut most workplaces again last week. The following day, school closures went into effect for at least one month and it also banned public and private social gatherings of any size.
Many other countries have been cited as examples of what the UK could do – Austria, Spain, Italy all being countries that have eased some rules in recent days, as their experts assessed that the peak of infections had been hit.
But it is the warning of countries like Singapore, which have already attempted a return to normal life, that likely most worries the UK Government.
Scientists are also mindful of historical precedent. The Spanish Flu, which broke out in 1918, killed more people during its second wave, in the autumn of that year, after infections returned. While the world is a very different place a century on, the nature of the infection and how it spreads is not.