Placing plans for a minimum three-week extension to prevent a deadly “second spike” of infections, Boris Johnson’s replacement said any current release would “dramatically increase the number of deaths”.
And dispelling any hope that conditions would be fully lifted before the May holiday, he said there could be local lockouts going on during the summer to prevent the emergence of new hot spots.
Raab said the ministers had received “very clear advice” from Sage, the expert scientific committee advising the government, that lifting the restrictions would now risk a second wave of damaging infections, which “would significantly increase the number of death ”.
“This would reverse the progress made to date and, therefore, would require an even longer period of more restrictive social distancing measures.”
His announcement came as ministers faced new calls to explain how they intended to control the virus so that the lockdown could finally be eased – with an adviser, Neil Ferguson, who broke ranks on Thursday to call to “the resolute emphasis on intensifying tests and looking for contacts”.
He said the government should speed up action as it did with Brexit and argued that a huge testing and contact tracing infrastructure should be in place for the lock to be lifted without further spikes.
“Without that, our estimates show that we have relatively little latitude. If we relax the measures too much, we will see a resurgence in transmission, ”he told the BBC Today program.
Matt Hancock, the secretary of health, reacted to the criticism with indignation, affirming that Ferguson “advises the government. He is not in government. “
When asked for a deadline to lift the restrictions, Raab underscored Boris Johnson’s remark a month ago, March 19, that it would take 12 weeks to “reverse the trend” of the virus. “It’s basically the outline,” said Raab. The UK is now in its fourth week of foreclosure.
Raab has set out five conditions that should be met before any relaxation of the rules. These include a sustained decline in the daily mortality rate and confidence that the supply of PPE and tests can meet future demand.
In a reprimand addressed to right-wing commentators arguing for the lifting of the foreclosure in order to alleviate the economic costs of closing businesses and freeing workers, Raab added that “early release would hurt the economy more long period “.
Rather than lifting the restrictions, Raab spoke of “adjusting them”, adding, “It could mean relaxing measures in some areas, while strengthening measures in others.” A source from Downing Street called the approach “keyhole surgery.”
He noted that although the infection rate has decreased in the community, “we have problems with the spread of the virus in some hospitals and care homes.”
Hancock promised more tests and protective gear for nursing home staff on Wednesday, and many have reported inadequate supplies and random advice from the government.
Labor leader Keir Starmer welcomed the extension of the measures. “I fully support the government’s decision to extend the lockout,” he said. “The priority now must be to ensure faster testing, that staff get the PPE they desperately need and that more is done to protect our nursing homes from the virus. We also need to clarify the plans that are put in place to lift the lockdown when the time is right. “
Raab replaced the Prime Minister, who is recovering at Checkers after being hospitalized with the virus. Downing Street said Boris Johnson was not involved in the decision to extend the restrictions, but that Raab had updated him over the phone.
A Conservative MP said that “right-wing members of the cabinet and the wider party” were pushing for an early exit from the lockdown, but number 10 was very cautious.
A senior Westminster source, aware of the government’s thinking, said that a move towards contact tracing by an army of trained people was on the verge of becoming “the next big U-turn.”
Previous reversals of government policy include recognizing the need for mass testing, abandoning the collective immunity strategy and realizing that an antibody test was more difficult to develop than is known thought.
Another change of opinion could concern the wearing of masks by members of the public. Chief Medical Officer of Health Chris Whitty said it was “a very real problem that we are looking at again.” He said there was medical evidence of a “small” effect on the transmission of the virus.
Counselors had previously suggested that there are few benefits to wearing masks, but Whitty said, “The point on scientific advice is that it is evolving.”
Chief scientific advisor Patrick Vallance also alluded to the measures underway, saying that the challenge was to bring R – the rate of virus transmission – below 1 and keep it there. “There may be a number of measures that need to be pursued to allow this to happen,” he said. “There will be changes to be made, around things like working from home.”
Hancock will be pressured to embark on a coordinated testing and contact tracing regime when he appears on Friday before a select committee hearing, chaired by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, and to which several other presidents committee members were invited.
Hunt has long lobbied for a screening and mass screening strategy, which was rejected by government experts in mid-March when they switched from a policy of trying to contain the virus to trying to delay its peak.
At that time, on March 26, Dr. Jenny Harries said that testing and contact tracing was “not an appropriate mechanism for the future,” despite exhortation from the World Health Organization. to “test, test, test”.
The government has since conceded an update on mass testing and has started developing an app that can help find contacts. However, there are concerns that online tracing will not be effective in reaching older adults, that it will be voluntary and that privacy concerns may undermine its usefulness.