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Dominic Raab deputises as PM as Boris Johnson in intensive care

Boris Johnson has been moved to intensive care after his coronavirus condition worsened, handing the reins of government to his de facto deputy Dominic Raab.

The Prime Minister was transferred to the ICU at St Thomas’ Hospital in London at 7pm last night – 11 days after testing positive for the deadly disease. 

He remains conscious and Number 10 sources stressed he had been moved to the critical care unit as a precaution should he require a ventilator.

But Mr Johnson has asked foreign secretary Mr Raab to deputise for him ‘where necessary’, although it is understood he will not formally become a temporary prime minister. 

Speaking after the PM was moved to intensive care, Mr Raab insisted that ‘government business will continue’ and said there is a fantastic ‘team spirit’ among ministers. 

He also reassured that the premier was ‘receiving excellent care’ and thanked the NHS medics who were treating him and other patients across Britain. 

Mr Raab’s role as first secretary of state – the second most senior cabinet minister after the PM – means he is primed to take charge of the government’s coronavirus response at this critical period as cases approach the peak.  

Following the PM’s hospitalisation last night on the advice of his doctor, Mr Raab had already stepped up to chair this morning’s daily meeting of top officials steering the nation through the health crisis. 

And at this afternoon’s Downing Street press briefing, he confirmed a further 439 coronavirus deaths, taking the toll to 5,373, while the number of patients rose by 3,802 to 51,608. 

Mr Johnson was still in charge during this press conference, but his symptoms spiralled and he required oxygen, prompting the move to critical care, according to Sky News.  

Health experts appeared unanimous in their view that the PM’s admission to intensive care means he is ‘extremely sick’. 

Yet world leaders and politicians around the globe rallied around Mr Johnson, who received well wishers from David Cameron, Emmanuel Macron and Ivanka Trump. 

The Queen has also been kept informed by Downing Street about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s condition, Buckingham Palace said. 

On a day where the nation was sending the PM its support:  

  • Humiliated Nicola Sturgeon has admitted the effort to combat coronavirus has been damaged after she was forced to accept the resignation of Scotland’s chief medical officer for flouting her own lockdown rules; 
  • Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is out of self-isolation and has been working after recovering from coronavirus;   
  • Worrying figures showed the UK’s coronavirus epidemic was set to overtake that suffered by France and Italy; 
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock threatened to revoke the right to exercise outdoors if people continued to flout social distancing measures;
  • The Prime Minister’s spokesperson confirmed that sunbathing in public is not allowed and flouts rules allowing only essential movement;
  • Top scientists said it would take at least a month for the UK to develop antibody tests that could be rolled out widely to check who has had the virus already;
  • A report by the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre has found that ethnic minority people are at a greater risk of becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus; 
  • A 54-year-old from Essex became the first midwife to die with coronavirus in England.

Mr Raab, also First Secretary of State, is primed to take charge of the government’s coronavirus response, but it is understood he is not a temporary prime minister (pictured at today’s No 10 press briefing) 

The Prime Minister (pictured on Thursday evening), who was admitted to St Thomas' Hospital in London last night, was taken to intensive care at 7pm this evening

The Prime Minister (pictured on Thursday evening), who was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London last night, was taken to intensive care at 7pm this evening

The PM said two days ago he was still suffering a high temperature

On Friday, the PM released a selfie video from self-isolation in Number 11 revealing he still had the symptoms of Covid-19

On Friday, the PM released a selfie-style video from self-isolation in Number 11 revealing he still had the symptoms of Covid-19

Downing Street infection timeline 

March 10: Health minister Nadine Dorries became the first MP to test positive for coronavirus, shortly after attending a Downing Street reception.

March 27: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Matt Hancock both release Twitter videos saying they have coronavirus and are self-isolating.

Hours later, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty revealed he was self-isolating with symptoms.

March 30: The PM’s top adviser Dominic Cummings was revealed to be self-isolating with coronavirus symptoms.

April 2: Matt Hancock returns to work after seven dies in isolation and making a recovery.

April 3: Boris Johnson releases a video from his Number 11 flat saying he is continuing to self-isolate as he is still suffering a temperature.

April 4: Carrie Symonds, the PM’s pregnant fiancée reveals she has been self-isolating at her Camberwell flat.

April 5: The PM is taken to St Thomas’ Hospital as a precaution. 

April 6: The PM is moved to intensive care after his condition spiralled.

Prof Chris Whitty also fronted the press conference after his period in isolation. 

A Number 10 spokesperson said: ‘Since Sunday evening, the Prime Minister has been under the care of doctors at St Thomas’ Hospital, in London, after being admitted with persistent symptoms of coronavirus.

‘Over the course of this afternoon, the condition of the Prime Minister has worsened and, on the advice of his medical team, he has been moved to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.

‘The PM has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is the First Secretary of State, to deputise for him where necessary.

‘The PM is receiving excellent care, and thanks all NHS staff for their hard work and dedication.’

The PM revealed he had tested positive on March 27 and started self-isolating in his Number 11 flat, where he resolved to continue leading his team of ministers and officials. 

He made a brief appearance on the doorstep of Number 11 on Thursday to clap NHS workers. 

And was last seen on Friday, when he posted a video message on Twitter revealing he was still suffering from a high temperature. 

Appearing exhausted, he said: ‘I still have minor symptoms, I have a temperature, and so in accordance with the government I must continue my self-isolation until that symptom goes’.

Yet when he was admitted to hospital last night, Downing Street insisted he was still at the helm of government.

However, his transferal to ICU means he has had to hand the reins of government to his de facto deputy Mr Raab, who vowed to keep the machine of government firing on all cylinders during the PM’s recovery.

The one-time Tory leadership contender said: ‘The Prime Minister is in safe hands with that brilliant team at St Thomas’ hospital, and the focus of the Government will continue to be on making sure that the Prime Minister’s direction, all the plans for making sure that we can defeat coronavirus and can pull the country through this challenge, will be taken forward.’

He added: ‘There’s an incredibly strong team spirit behind the Prime Minister, and making sure that we get all of the plans the Prime Minister’s instructed us to deliver, to get them implemented as soon as possible.

‘And that’s the way it will bring the whole country through the coronavirus challenge that we face right now.’

Senior doctors branded the PM’s admission to intensive care a ‘huge concern’ and underscores how indiscriminate the virus is.

Dr Simon Clarke, a professor on cellular microbiology at Reading University, told Sky News: ‘The NHS particularly in this moment doesn’t give up intensive care beds just for people to be looked over. It doesn’t work that way even for PMs.

‘He wouldn’t be in intensive care unless he needed to be in intensive care. Especially not at this time.’

He added: ‘It is probably about time that the press people in No10 started levelling with us about what his condition really is.’  

The one-time Tory leadership contender said: 'The Prime Minister is in safe hands with that brilliant team at St Thomas' hospital, and the focus of the Government will continue to be on making sure that the Prime Minister's direction, all the plans for making sure that we can defeat coronavirus and can pull the country through this challenge, will be taken forward'

The one-time Tory leadership contender said: ‘The Prime Minister is in safe hands with that brilliant team at St Thomas’ hospital, and the focus of the Government will continue to be on making sure that the Prime Minister’s direction, all the plans for making sure that we can defeat coronavirus and can pull the country through this challenge, will be taken forward’

The Prime Minister was transferred to the ICU at St Thomas' Hospital in London at 7pm this evening

The Prime Minister was transferred to the ICU at St Thomas’ Hospital in London at 7pm this evening 

Armed police patrol St Thomas' hospital, where the PM is in intensive care

Armed police patrol St Thomas’ hospital, where the PM is in intensive care 

Politicians of all stripes rallied around Mr Johnson, including from ex-prime minister David Cameron and French President Emmanuel Macron

Lockdown here to stay, says medical chief 

Professor Chris Whitty

Professor Chris Whitty

England’s chief medical officer played down the prospects of a swift lifting of the coronavirus lockdown today.

Professor Chris Whitty said that discussions about moving on to the next stage of the response to the pandemic would be premature until the nation has passed the peak number of deaths.

He downplayed reports that this figure could be reached this weekend as he returned to fronting the daily news conference, following a week in self isolation.

Flanking Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab he also warned people not to expect too much, too soon, from antibody tests that could give those who have had coronavirus and built up immunity, a way to return to normal life.

He said: ‘The key thing is to get to the point where we are confident we have reached the peak and this is now beyond the peak and at that point I think it is possible to have a serious discussion about all the things we need to do step-by-step to move to the next phase of managing this.

‘But I think to start having that discussion until we’re confident that that’s where we’ve got to, would I think be a mistake.’ 

Downing Street sources confirmed Mr Johnson is not yet on a ventilator, although medical experts forecast this course of action is ‘very likely’. 

Prof Derek Hill, Professor of Medical Imaging, University College London, said: ‘As often happens with COVID-19, his condition has now deteriorated so he has been admitted to intensive care where he is very likely to have been put on a mechanical ventilator to breath for him.’

He added: ‘One of the features of COVID-19 in all countries seems to be that many more men become seriously ill than women – especially in the over 40 age group. 

‘Also we know that people under about 60 seem to have a higher chance of making a recovery from critical illness with COVID-19 than older people. But there is no doubt this turn of events means Boris Johnson is extremely sick.’  

Mr Johnson’s pregnant fiancée Carrie Symonds, who is due in the early summer, is self-isolating in her own Camberwell apartment with the couple’s dog Dilyn after symptoms surfaced. 

The 32-year-old said on Saturday: ‘I’ve spent the past week in bed with the main symptoms of Coronavirus. I haven’t needed to be tested and, after seven days of rest, I feel stronger and I’m on the mend.’ 

Politicians of all stripes rallied around Mr Johnson, including from ex-prime minister David Cameron and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: ‘My thoughts are with the PM and his family – sending him every good wish.’

Business minister Nadim Zahawi tweeted: ‘Thoughts & prayers for Boris Johnson & Carrie Symonds and their family. 

‘I have known Boris for 20 years he is a fighter and will beat this virus.’

Chancellor Rishi Sunak tweeted: ‘My thoughts tonight are with Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds. I know he’ll be getting the best care possible and will come out of this even stronger.’

Members of the newly-formed shadow cabinet offered their support for the PM.

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy tweeted: ‘Awful news. My very best wishes to the Prime Minister, as well as his partner Carrie, family and friends. Get well soon Boris Johnson.’ 

Mr Johnson fell ill with the virus on the same day as Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has since recovered.

Alarm bells started ringing that the nerve centre of the government’s crisis response had been compromised when chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and top Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings also began showing symptoms. Meetings have since taken place via videolink. 

Dominic Raab takes the reins: Foreign Secretary is called on to ‘deputise for’ stricken PM Boris Johnson while he is in intensive care

Boris Johnson tonight effectively handed the reins of government to Dominic Raab as he battles coronavirus in intensive care.

Downing Street said the PM had ‘deputised’ the Foreign Secretary – who as First Secretary of State is officially the second highest ranking minister – before his condition became more serious.

However, Mr Johnson has not resigned and so continues to be the formal leader of the government.  

The UK does not have a written constitution and the chain of command is largely based on convention. 

Since the end of the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition in 2015 there has not been a deputy PM.   

Instead Mr Cameron, Theresa May and now Mr Johnson appointed First Secretaries of State to denote who was second in line.  

Downing Street is said to have drawn up plans to ensure the continuation of government in all circumstances but details have not been divulged publicly. 

It is not immediately clear what would happen if Mr Raab also became incapacitated, with the UK not having a formal system of succession like other countries, for example the US. 

In a Twitter video posted on Friday from quarantine in No11, where he has been in self-isolation, an exhausted-looking Mr Johnson revealed he was still suffering from a high temperature

In a Twitter video posted on Friday from quarantine in No11, where he has been in self-isolation, an exhausted-looking Mr Johnson revealed he was still suffering from a high temperature

The Prime Minster 'deputised' Dominic Raab as he was admitted to intensive care tonight

The Prime Minster ‘deputised’ Dominic Raab as he was admitted to intensive care tonight

Police officers are seen today outside St Thomas' Hospital in London, a short distance from Downing Street, after Mr Johnson was admitted for tests on Sunday

Police officers are seen today outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London, a short distance from Downing Street, after Mr Johnson was admitted for tests on Sunday

Dominic Raab, a karate black belt, is married without any children to Erika (together), a Brazilian-born marketing executive

Dominic Raab, a karate black belt, is married without any children to Erika (together), a Brazilian-born marketing executive

Mr Raab’s status as the person waiting in the wings reportedly sparked furious rows within the government a fortnight ago, with other ministers adamant Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, should be the one to take over.  

Dominic Raab: Karate black belt and relative Cabinet novice   

The MP for Esher and Walton worked as an in-house lawyer for the Foreign Office in 2000, before returning to the department in Boris Johnson’s post-election reshuffle.

The former grammar school boy, born to a Czech Jewish father who fled the Nazis in 1938 to Britain as a refugee before the Second World War, helped bring war criminals to justice in The Hague during his first stint in the Foreign Office.

Mr Raab is a karate black belt and former boxing blue at Oxford University in 1995. The 45-year-old is married without any children to Erika, a Brazilian-born marketing executive who was wheeled out for photoshoots in his leadership campaign. 

He has described how his father Peter fled the Nazis and came to Britain aged six.

His father learned English, worked for M&S as a food manager and met his mother Jean, who was from Bromley, Kent. He died when Dominic was 12 after losing his battle with cancer. 

The appointment to Foreign Secretary was a major promotion for Mr Raab, who up to then had just four months experience in the Cabinet after a stint as Brexit Secretary last year.   

Last summer he stood in the Tory leadership race on a hardcore Brexiteer ticket even harder than Mr Johnson. But after being knocked out he quickly backed his former rival and supported him in his campaign.

But Number 10 is likely to face intense pressure in the coming days to set out exactly what would happen if Mr Johnson and other senior ministers can no longer work.

If Mr Johnson could no longer carry on in post and resigned, the Cabinet would in the first instance choose a successor.

They would need to carry the support of the Conservative MPs – although it is unlikely anyone would force a leadership contest at a time of massive crisis.    

At the weekend it was revealed that two of the most senior Ministers leading the Government response to the coronavirus crisis are locked in battle over when to lift the economically devastating lockdown.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has made ‘robust’ representations to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, arguing that unless a path is mapped now for a swift return to normal economic activity it could cause lasting damage to the country.

Government critics of Mr Hancock argue his ‘careerist’ fear of being personally blamed for a collapse in the NHS is blinding him to the dangers of a protracted lockdown.

But allies of Mr Hancock hit back, saying: ‘He is just doing his job, which is to protect the NHS.’

One MP suggested that the PM was too keen to emulate his hero, Winston Churchill and should rest.

But Downing Street described last night’s shock move as a ‘precautionary step’, insisting that he continued to lead the Government, and remained in touch with ministers and senior officials.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick stressed it was not an emergency admission and that he expected him to be back in Downing Street ‘shortly’.

‘He’s been working extremely hard leading the Government and being constantly updated,’ he told BBC Breakfast.

‘That’s going to continue.

‘Obviously today he’s in hospital having the tests but he will continue to be kept informed as to what’s happening and to be in charge of the Government.

Michael Gove

Dominic Raab

Downing Street said Dominic Raab (pictured right) will take over if the PM is incapacitated but there have been claims some ministers have pushed for Michael Gove to be given the job

How are ministers ranked? 

 1. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister

2. Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State

3. Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer

4. Priti Patel, Home Secretary

5. Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

6. Robert Buckland, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary

7. Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary

8. Matt Hancock, Health Secretary

9. Alok Sharma, Business Secretary

10. Liz Truss, International Trade Secretary

11. Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary

12. Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

13. George Eustice, Environment Secretary

14. Robert Jenrick, Communities Secretary

15. Brandon Lewis, Northern Ireland Secretary

16. Alister Jack, Scotland Secretary

17. Simon Hart, Wales Secretary

18. Baroness Evans, Leader of the House of Lords

19. Oliver Dowden, Culture Secretary

20. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, International Development Secretary

21. Amanda Milling, Minister without Portfolio (Conservative Party chairwoman)

‘I’m sure this is very frustrating for him, for somebody like Boris who wants to be hands on running the Government from the front, but nonetheless he’s still very much in charge of the Government.’ 

In a Twitter video posted on Friday from quarantine in No11, where he has been in self-isolation, an exhausted-looking Mr Johnson revealed he was still suffering from a high temperature.

Experts say there is a risk of pneumonia when a temperature lasts more than a week. There have been claims Mr Johnson has been coughing heavily during conference calls.      

The UK has four great offices of state: Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary. 

But beyond that there is no public plan on the line of succession should the PM be struck down. 

The US is one of a number of countries which has such a plan: If the President cannot work, the Vice President takes over and so on down a long list of government figures. 

The US also has a ‘designated survivor’ – someone in the line of succession who is told to stay away from major events like inaugurations and State of the Union Addresses in case something bad happens and they can then step in as commander in chief.    

Successive prime ministers have resisted calls to formally set out succession plans because of the message they fear it would convey to the public and because of the damage it could do to their political standing. 

But there have been repeated attempts by backbench MPs to pass a law formalising the succession issue.

Mr Raab, Mr Gove, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are widely seen as the most important ministers in the government at the moment in terms of combating coronavirus. 

Each chairs a committee coordinating different parts of the government’s response to the crisis. 

Mr Gove’s is focused on public sector preparedness, Mr Hancock’s is focused on NHS capacity, Mr Raab’s deals with the overseas response and Mr Sunak’s looks at the economy.

The coronavirus death lag explained: How it can take three weeks between catching the disease and being hospitalised (and three days for the NHS to record the fatality) 

By Connor Boyd, health reporter for MailOnline 

The rate of coronavirus infections is starting to slow in the UK, figures suggest – but it could take weeks before death rates fall.

This is because there can be more than a three-week lag between the time someone is diagnosed with the virus, their symptoms become deadly and the death is recorded.

The number of people dying in hospital with coronavirus is still doubling every three-and-a-half days despite confirmed cases and hospitalisations are slowing down. 

Scientists say the death rate will also fall, but they warn Britain could still suffer a record high number of casualties in the coming days due to the lag.

It takes several days for a coronavirus patient to develop symptoms, and as long as a fortnight for the infection to become a life-threatening illness.

There can be a time lag of more than three weeks between someone becoming infected with coronavirus and dying. Symptoms take days – if not weeks – to become life-threatening. The death has to be recorded and reported, and the family notified, in a process that takes days

Fit for office? UK Prime Ministers who have fallen ill while at the helm 

On Monday evening Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken into intensive care in London after his coronavirus symptoms worsened. 

But he’s not the only British Prime Minister to become incapacitated by illness while serving at the helm.

David Lloyd George: Lloyd George served as Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922.

In September 1918 he developed a sore throat after visiting Manchester’s Albert Square and mingling in crowds during a ceremony for soldiers and munitions workers.

It later became clear he had Spanish influenza. He spent 11 days inside and was hooked up to a ventilator.  

Harold Wilson: Wilson served as Prime Minister from 1964 to 1970 and from 1974 to 1976.

During his second term in office from 1974 to 1976 he suffered from colon cancer.

It was also suggested that he had suffered from Alzheimer’s after doctors analysed his speech patterns during his previous addresses. 

Winston Churchill: Churchill served as Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.

His personal physician claimed he suffered from clinical depression throughout his time as Prime Minister.

In 1941 he suffered a heart attack at the White House and contracted pneumonia a few years later. 

In 1949 he also suffered a stroke on holiday and suffered a third while in office in 1953, leaving him paralysed on one side. 

In 1956 he suffered another stroke. 

Tony Blair: Blair served as Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007. 

In 2004 he was rushed to Hammersmith Hospital, where he was found to be suffering from supraventricular tachycardia, which is when a person suffers from an abnormal heart rhythm. 

In 2005 he received treatment for a heart flutter.

Gordon Brown: Brown served as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010.

After a rugby accident as a teenager Mr Brown lost his sight in one eye.

In 2009 he told the Andrew Marr show that this had made it difficult for him over the years.

He said: ‘I feel that I have done everything to show people that I can do the job even with the handicap that I’ve had as a result of a rugby injury.’ 

Theresa May: May served as Prime Minster from 2016-2019.

In 2012 she visited the doctor because she thought she had bronchitis but was actually diagnosed as having Type 1 Diabetes. 

If the patient succumbs to the illness, the death has to be recorded and reported and the family notified. This process that can take up to three days.

The reporting delay means that once the UK has passed the peak of the outbreak, it may take several days for the death rate to reflect this.

The UK today announced 3,802 new positive coronavirus tests – 2,101 fewer than 5,903 yesterday and only the second time since March that the number has been below 4,000.

The number of new cases is also lower than it was for almost all of last week, suggesting the draconian social restrictions are working.

More than 51,000 people have now been diagnosed with the infection in the UK. Officials also declared 439 more deaths, taking the total to 5,373.

The number of people dying of COVID-19 has now fallen for two days in a row and today dropped 30 per cent from 621 yesterday.

Today’s death count is the lowest since March 31, last Tuesday, when it was 381, and marks a 39 per cent fall from the UK’s worst day so far, Saturday, when the deaths of 708 people were recorded. 

Falling figures may be a reason to be cheerful, but experts have warned against pinning too much significance to day-by-day numbers.

Statistics recorded on Sundays and published on Mondays have, since the outbreak in the UK began, been routinely followed by an upward surge on Tuesday. Last Monday’s figure was 13 per cent lower than Sunday’s.

Over the past three weeks, the number of new deaths reported has been doubling every three-and-a-half days. Scientists expect this to continue.

NHS England revealed 403 more deaths have been recorded in its hospitals, among people aged between 35 and 106. All but 15 of them had other health problems.

Scotland, which was the first to declare new cases today, noted 255 new positive tests and just four new deaths, taking its totals to 222 and 3,961.

Wales declared a further 302 cases and 27 more deaths, meaning it has now had 3,499 positive tests and 193 people have died.

The majority of the deaths happened in London again, with a total of 129, followed by 75 in the Midlands, 67 in the North East and Yorkshire, 44 in the East of England, 43 in the North West, 27 in the South West and 18 in the South East.

Hopes are rising across Europe now that governments’ drastic lockdown measures are working.

Italy yesterday recorded its lowest one-day death toll in two weeks – since March 20 – with 525 fatalities announced.

Spain today revealed its fewest deaths in a day since March 24 (637) and Germany announced its lowest number in a week (92).

The tumbling figures – if they carry on – show that strict government policies telling people to remain at home unless necessary are stopping the virus from spreading.

And some countries in Europe have already started to draw up plans for their exits from lockdown, with Austria setting targets to start reopening businesses after the Easter weekend.

Austria today became the first country to set out detailed plans for ending the standstill, with smaller shops re-opening on April 14 and larger ones on May 1.

Denmark also plans to start lifting restrictions after Easter, but wants people to ‘work in a more staggered way’ to avoid crowding into trains and buses.

Meanwhile Germany is willing to re-open schools on a regional basis and allow a limited number of people into restaurants if the infection rate stays sufficiently low. There have been more than 100,000 cases diagnosed in Germany.

In Italy, which has been under lockdown longer than any other European country, officials are talking about a ‘phase two’ where society learns to ‘live with the virus’ by wearing masks and carrying out more tests.

Italy and Germany are among the countries looking at smartphone tracking, which could allow them to jump on new outbreaks without sending everyone back inside.

All of those countries, along with Spain, have seen signs of improvement in their recent figures which offer hope that the crisis is past its peak. That moment is still to come for Britain and America, which are bracing for one of their bleakest weeks.

However, health officials across Europe warn that life cannot go back ‘from 0 to 100’ immediately and many lockdown measures will remain in place for several more weeks at least.

Italy is openly talking about a ‘phase two’ in which society will have to ‘create the conditions to live with the virus’ until a vaccine is developed.

Health minister Roberto Speranza says more testing and a beefed-up local health system would be necessary to allow an easing of the lockdown.

He said social distancing would have to remain in place, with more widespread use of personal protective equipment such as face masks.

Testing and ‘contact tracing’ would be extended, including with the use of smartphone apps, in order to contain new outbreaks.

A network of hospitals would also be set up which are specifically dedicated to virus patients, after doctors on existing wards described having to make life-or-death decisions over access to intensive care.

‘There are difficult months ahead. Our task is to create the conditions to live with the virus,’ at least until a vaccine is developed, the health minister told La Repubblica newspaper.

The national lockdown, strictly limiting people’s movements and freezing all non-essential economic activity, will officially last until at least April 13 but it is widely expected to be extended. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk