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.
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.
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:
- Ministers have admitted that the government will ‘probably’ miss Matt Hancock’s target for carrying out 100,000 tests a day;
- 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;
- 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
Boris Johnson arriving back at Downing Street from hospital after the birth of his baby son with his partner Carrie Symonds yesterday
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland (left) said in interviews this morning that the mood among ministers was ‘extreme caution’, endorsing a strong hint from Nicola Sturgeon (right on ITV’s Peston last night) that restrictions will be extended for another three weeks when the formal review takes place on May 7
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty was in Downing Street for the Cabinet meeting this morning
Ministers finally admit they will MISS Matt Hancock’s 100,000-a-day testing target TODAY as NHS chiefs say the number is a ‘red herring’
Ministers have admitted they face missing Matt Hancock’s coronavirus testing target today – as experts brand it a ‘red herring’ that has hampered the response.
Amid criticism that the UK was lagging behind countries such as South Korea and Germany, the Health Secretary dramatically pledged on April 2 that 100,000 checks a day would be carried out by the end of the month.
But while daily capacity is now over 70,000 the number of actual tests is still running at barely half the goal.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland conceded this morning that the aim was ‘probably’ going to be missed, blaming the fact the government started from a ‘low base’ and saying he now hoped the figures would reach the mark in the next few days.
NHS Providers, which represents health service trusts, has launched a scathing attack on Mr Hancock’s handling of the situation, saying the push to hit the number has been a ‘distraction’ and led to chaotic expansion.
The Cabinet will meet this morning to discuss ‘phase two,’ but it has become increasingly clear that Mr Johnson will have to dash any hopes of ending the lockdown soon.
Mr Buckland said Scottish First Minister Ms Sturgeon was ‘right to be cautious’ in her warning that measures are unlikely to be eased on the next review date of May 7.
He said: ‘I think the common thread between the Governments is one of extreme caution following the evidence of the Sage committee, making sure that we don’t do anything in a premature way that could risk a second spike. That would be a disaster.’
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think, within Government, there is already a lot of work going on as to what the future is going to look like – I think it would be a dereliction of duty if we didn’t do that.
‘Certainly in my department, I’m looking ahead now to the medium term as to what the summer and autumn are going to look like in the prison and court system. We’ve got to start that work, in fact the work is already under way.
‘That’s, of course, not saying that we’re suddenly going to move into a new phase – we need to be absolutely sure that the five tests that were set out some weeks ago are going to be met, and in particular the need to avoid that second or even third spike in the disease is clear to me both in terms of health and the well-being of the economy as well.’
One No10 source said of Mr Johnson’s message: ‘It will very much be in the area of how we satisfy our five tests for coming out of lockdown, chief among which is making sure we don’t risk another exponential rise in infections.
‘It’s still too early to be setting out any details of what any easing of the lockdown might look like.’
On ITV’s Peston show last night, Ms Sturgeon – who attends Cobra emergency committee meetings – continued her habit of preempting the Westminster government’s moves.
‘People talk about lifting the lockdown — that is not going to be a flick of the switch moment,’ she said.
‘We’re going to have to be very careful, very slow, very gradual. I’m far from convinced at this stage that when we get to the next review point on May 7, we’ll be in a position to lift any of these measures right now.
‘Because the margins of manoeuvre that we’re operating in right now are very, very, very tight and narrow.’
Data published yesterday showed that Britain has one of the world’s worst coronavirus death rates, better only than Spain and Belgium per capita.
Revised UK figures including deaths outside hospitals showed that there have been nine days when the death toll topped 1,000 – ranging from April 7 to as recently as April 24.
London’s transport network could not get back to capacity for ‘FOUR WEEKS’ if lockdown eased
London’s transport network could be crippled when the UK eases lockdown measures after TfL furloughed 7,000 staff, a stark report has revealed today.
The briefing to emergency planners, seen by the BBC, warns the Underground will be ‘rapidly overwhelmed’ if social distancing were maintained, and says police would be under pressure if needed to maintain crowd control.
London’s transport system would need four weeks to prepare for the new challenges, according to the ‘lockdown release’ briefing.
The London Strategic Co-ordination Group (SCG) document stated the capacity of the Tube and buses would be cut to 15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively compared with normal levels, if a two-metre space between passengers is enforced.
Militant RMT union bosses presented another hurdle last week, saying there was ‘zero chance’ their workers would return without proper PPE – as London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged Londoners to wear masks when they travel.
Britain is beginning to see a return to some normality as traffic returns to the country’s motorways – but the Government insists it does not want to lift lockdown measures too early while the country is still facing a ‘dangerous moment’ in the coronavirus pandemic.
Dominic Raab pointed to the perils of a premature easing, noting that Germany, though it contained the virus commendably, has now seen a surge in transmission since opening back up.
‘Chancellor Merkel has made it clear that they might need a second lockdown in Germany if the infection rate continues to rise,’ the Foreign Secretary said at the Downing Street briefing.
Ministers are working on a series of workplace guides detailing restrictions that will continue even when the lockdown is eased.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma has asked officials to produce advice on how a gradual return to work could be managed safely for seven different kinds of workplace including offices, factories and construction sites.
Firms will be told to shut canteens and other communal spaces, as well as operating new shift patterns to allow for social distancing and limit the pressure on public transport at rush hour.
Office staff are likely to be encouraged to continue working from home where possible.
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said a partial reopening of schools was ‘in the mix’ but it was ‘premature’ to expect early action given the difficulty of social distancing in them.
One Whitehall source said the three-weekly review of lockdown measures, due on May 7, would involve only modest changes at best.
‘We are looking at whether we can undo the top button and make things more comfortable in one or two places for the economy,’ the source added. ‘But any idea of a widespread lifting is plain wrong.’
Masked passengers are seen crowding onto a platform at Canning Town underground station in London this morning
Ministers have outlined five tests that must be met before lockdown can be lifted in the UK
Britain’s roads are becoming noticeably more busy, sparking fears the country is easing itself out of lockdown against Government advice
The Government has still not announced when children will be allowed back to school but has dismissed calls for them to open during the summer so pupils can catch up on any lessons they have missed
The government revealed new data showing the numbers of deaths inside and away from hospitals for the first time – but the seven-day average of deaths is falling
The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies will hand new evidence to ministers in the coming days, but it is expected to say lifting many of the restrictions would immediately lead to the infection rate rising.
A government source said Mr Johnson will be ‘very clear that we will not do anything that might risk [this]… because then you are back with the virus spreading exponentially and the risk of a second lockdown’.
At last night’s No 10 press conference, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab noted a reported rise in virus cases in Germany, which has eased its lockdown.
He said a similar uptick in the UK ‘is a very real risk’.
The news came after a day that saw the UK’s coronavirus death toll surge by 3,811 to 26,097 now that the Government has started counting people who died in care homes or their own houses.
It was the first time the Department of Health included people dying outside of hospitals in its daily statistics, and the backdated numbers have added thousands to the death toll, which was yesterday 21,678.
But a bigger surge had been expected. The Office for National Statistics reports that more than 4,300 people are known to have died in care homes by April 17, but the Care Quality Commission has recorded more than 4,300 in just a fortnight in England alone.
However, the Government will only include people who have tested positive for the virus in its statistics, despite rationing almost all the testing kits to hospitals for the first month of the outbreak.
Professor John Newton, the Government’s testing chief, explained officials had been working on the assumption that if one person tested positive for COVID-19 in a home then anyone else who developed symptoms probably also had it and didn’t need testing.
The daily Downing Street briefing revealed the numbers of new cases of coronavirus in the UK, the numbers of intensive care beds in use and total hospitalisations
The ONS and CQC continue to put out more reliable but slower statistics which include reports of people who were suspected to have the disease but were never diagnosed and, as a result, put the number of people dying outside of hospitals significantly higher.
ONS data suggests that the real number of victims may be 55 per cent higher than the Government is letting on, putting the figure at more than 40,000 already. Records in Scotland, meanwhile, show hospital deaths now account for just 52 per cent of fatalities, suggesting the true number is 43,000. The Financial Times estimates that 47,000 people have died already.
The Department of Health’s data today, however, suggests that hospital patients still make up 83 per cent of all fatalities – something which is not borne out by any other statistics being published in the UK.
Britain today announced 765 more hospital patients have died of the coronavirus, of whom around 600 died in hospitals. NHS England announced 445 more victims, including a healthy 14-year-old, to add to 83 declared in Scotland and 73 in Wales.
It comes as the number of people known to have died in care homes is soaring and one expert from the University of Cambridge said people may now be dying at a faster rate in homes than in hospitals.
The professor, a highly regarded statistics expert and an OBE recipient, spoke of ‘massive, unprecedented spikes’ in the numbers of care home fatalities and said there was no evidence that care homes were over the worst of the outbreak, as the rest of the country is believed to be.
He told MailOnline the updated death toll was not high enough and the truth was ‘at least as much again’, putting the total higher than 30,000.
Speaking about yesterday’s updated data collection, Professor Spiegelhalter said: ‘It’s actually a lot more than that [3,811].
‘The true number is probably at least as much again as they added in today, which would take it well above 30,000. They’re doing their best and it is a lot better than what we’ve been getting but it is still not the full picture.
‘If you put those two datasets (ONS and CQC) [with] the new data being reported [it] is still missing a good few hundred deaths each day.’
Separate data released today by the National Records of Scotland has made it abundantly clear that the hospital deaths being announced by government officials each day are only showing a fraction of the reality.
National Records data revealed that hospital patients only made up 52 per cent of all fatalities, while 39 per cent happened in nursing homes and 11 per cent elsewhere. When they were added together Scotland’s total death toll for April 26 almost doubled from 1,262 to 2,272.
Care homes, which are believed to still be in the grip of the coronavirus, are disaster-struck and the Government is facing heavy criticism over alleged failures to help the industry prepare.
In England and Wales the number of residents dying of any cause has almost tripled in a month, from around 2,500 per week in March to 7,300 in a single week in April – more than 2,000 of the latter were confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports suggest care homes are now seeing around 400 coronavirus deaths each day, on average – a number on par with hospitals in England.
The way data is backdated means that the true picture of what’s happening in care homes is unclear because we currently only have statistics from two weeks ago.
The true scale of the crisis has also been masked by a lack of routine testing, meaning hundreds of elderly residents may have died without ever being diagnosed.
Public Health England data has revealed that almost a third of all nursing homes in the country have reported coronavirus outbreaks.
Boarding planes could take FOUR HOURS with added health checks and much higher ticket prices after lockdown ends, experts warn
by LARA KEAY for MailOnline
Boarding a plane could take up to four hours when passengers are allowed to fly again once the coronavirus lockdown eases, it was claimed today.
Flyers could be asked to arrive at airports four hours in advance to allow for health checks and social distancing measures, one expert warns.
Flights will be more expensive because airlines will only be allowed to have a limited number of people on board to ensure they stay two metres apart.
This will push up ticket prices and make for an ‘uncomfortable’ flying experience for as long as another five years, another travel expert told The Times.
Boarding a plane could take up to four hours when passengers are allowed to fly again once the coronavirus lockdown easest, according to some experts. Pictured: A man boards a plane at an empty Barcelona airport yesterday
Andrew Charlton, managing director of the consultancy Aviation Advocacy, told the newspaper: ‘Even if it starts raining vaccines tonight, we are still looking at two years at least to get back to levels seen before the outbreak, and it is probably going to be more like five years.
‘There will be fewer flights, fewer seats available, prices will go up and there will be very uncomfortable conditions because of the demands to wear personal protective equipment and maintain social distancing.’
Earlier this month, easyJet announced it plans to keep middle seats empty on its planes when it restarts flights.
But Airline analyst Chris Tarry claims maintaining a two-metre gap between passengers would mean 80 per cent of seats would have to be empty.
To make sure airlines are still profitable, they will have to hike up ticket prices exponentially, he told The Times.
It would also mean that scarcely-used routes would be abolished too.
Air travel has plummeted worldwide to stop the spread of coronavirus from country to country, with airports almost left empty except for a small number of repatriation flights.
British Airways revealed it has plans to make 12,000 workers – a quarter of its entire workforce – redundant after being hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Virgin Atlantic has gone into administration in Australia with founder Sir Richard Branson desperately trying to cling onto the UK business.
Wizz Air will become the first commercial airline to start operating again in the UK tomorrow, but says all passengers must wear facemasks.
It will operate 15 routes out of Luton Airport to a range of destinations including Budapest, Lisbon and Tenerife.
Wizz Air will become the first commercial airline to start operating again in the UK tomorrow, but says all passengers must wear facemasks. File image used
Lufthansa is starting up again on Monday, but has told all passengers to wear a facemask or scarf that covers their mouth and nose.
The Government has made it clear that foreign travel will be off the cards for most people in 2020.
Those hoping to still jet off on their summer holidays will be disappointed, with many European destinations such as Italy, Spain and France brutally hit by the virus.
Ministers have told Britons not to swap their getaways with staycations either, warning that beauty spots such as Cornwall and Snowdonia do not have the NHS infrastructure to cope if visitors fall ill.
On cruise ships, passengers will also face stringent medical checks.
The UK’s biggest cruise liner P&O is developing plans to introduce a series of ‘rigorous measures’ to ensure it obeys international health guidelines when it restarts operations once the coronavirus pandemic recedes.
Other changes being considered include reducing the capacity of ships, scrapping self-service buffets and implementing one-way systems on board.