Thursday, 30 April 2020

Boris Johnson is set to dash hopes of an early end to coronavirus curbs

Boris Johnson is set to signal lockdown will stay until June today as he gathers Cabinet to thrash out an 'exit strategy' - and then fronts a daily coronavirus briefing for the first time since falling ill.

The Prime Minister is expected to dash hopes of an imminent end to the draconian curbs crippling the economy, stressing that allowing the killer disease to run rampant again would do even worse damage.

Mr Johnson will put the 'R' number - the reproduction rate of the virus - at the heart of the battle, saying he will not take action that lets it rise above one, meaning it is growing.   

Government sources have indicated he will also defy calls to treat the public like 'grown ups' by spelling out ways in which the lockdown might be eased, saying it is 'too early'.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said in interviews this morning that the mood among ministers was 'extreme caution', endorsing a strong hint from Nicola Sturgeon that restrictions will be extended for another three weeks when the formal review takes place on May 7. 

Ms Sturgeon told a briefing in Edinburgh today: 'It may very well be too early even this time next week in any meaningful way to safely lift the current restrictions... the margins we have for making sure the virus doesn't take off again are really really tight.' 

However, frantic work has been going on behind the scenes to develop an 'exit plan', with suggestions island communities with controllable transport links could be used to trial ways of loosening restrictions while ramping up community testing. The Isle of Wight has been mooted as a location for a pilot site. Discussions have also been ongoing about targeting regions with specific measures, with Cornwall considered easier to isolate.  

Mr Johnson's appearance at the press briefing tonight will be his first since resuming charge at Downing Street on Monday, and will come less than 36 hours after his fiancee Carrie Symonds gave birth to their son.

The premier has delayed his paternity leave until later in the year as the country struggles to fight off the coronavirus outbreak. 

In other developments with no end in sight to the crisis:

  • A report has warned that London's transport network could be crippled when the UK eases lockdown measures after TfL furloughed 7,000 staff; 
  • Ministers have admitted that the government will 'probably' miss Matt Hancock's target for carrying out 100,000 tests a day; 
  • A poll has found two-thirds of the public believe the government acted too late in imposing the lockdown; 
  • Fresh questions have been raised about the SAGE group amid claims that it has been influenced by politicians and senior officials; 
  • NHS fundraising hero Tom Moore has been promoted to colonel and honoured with an RAF flypast to mark his 100th birthday;
  • Top surgeons have warned thousands of people will die of Covid-19 if Britain's strict lockdown is lifted at this stage, saying the NHS must not be used as a 'punchbag' to avoid economic damage; 
  • Germany has said its coronavirus reproduction rate is 0.76, well below the growth level of one, despite fears over easing of curbs. But scientists have warned the UK has less room to manoeuvre on lockdown because it has far fewer intensive care beds   

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