On Thursday, the United Kingdom government announced that its current social distancing measures will remain in place for atleast another 3 weeks, going up to 7th May. As the UK’s death toll from the coronavirus pandemic rose by a further 861 to hit 13,729.
Dominic Raab, UK’s Foreign Secretary who is standing in for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers after testing positive for coronavirus.
The minister chaired an important meeting of the COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) to announce the Cabinet’s decision to extend the lockdown during the daily Downing Street briefing.
“Any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus,” said Raab, who is also the UK”s 1st Secretary of State.
Raab said, “Your efforts are paying off. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. To uplift measures now would unfasten the progress we have made to date and, as a result, would require an even longer period of the more restrictive social distancing measures.”
It was lying upon the govt by law this week to review the effect of the lockdown, imposed for an initial 21-day period by Johnson on 23rd March, based on the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) assessment.
Raab noted, “There are signs that the measures we have put in place have been successful in slowing down the spread of this virus. But SAGE also says that is a mixed and inconsistent picture and, in some settings, infections are still likely to be increasing.”
The British Prime Minister said that weak rules could cause a “2nd peak”, which would risk increasing deaths “majorly” and also outstretch the economic fallout from the outbreak.
“We have come too far, we have lost too many loved ones. Now is not the time to give coronavirus a 2nd chance,” he said and added that he is mindful of the hardships the lockdown was causing for the British public but the measures were absolutely essential.
After a televised address by Boris Johnson on 23rd March, the country’s lockdown which involves strict stay at home measures with movement allowed for limited urgent purposes only if “absolutely essential” and for 1 type of daily exercise came into force.
Based on expert scientific advice, ministers are required by law to check out whether the rules are working every 3 weeks, under the emergency measures passed for it.
Ministers had already pointed out in their daily Downing Street briefings this week that an extension to the lockdown measures is necessary.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in reference to the Cabinet’s extension plans, “We can see that we are reaching a peak, that is good news, but we can see that the figures are still not coming down, therefore we can’t make a change.” He added, “If we just released all the measures now then this virus would run rampant.”
Hancock joined other Cabinet members and the 1st ministers of the devolved governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales on Thursday as they discussed the further lockdown measures.
Countries of the UK like Scotland and Wales have already indicated that their social distancing norms will not be lifted yet and Northern Ireland has extended its lockdown until 9th May.
Support to an extension was offered by the Opposition Labour Party but is pressing the government on laying an exit strategy from the severe policies and lay out a plan for how the country would ultimately come out of it.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer stressed in a letter to Raab, that while millions of Britons are following the rules, they need some clear idea on what to expect in the future.
Keir Starmer has urged the government to come out with its lockdown strategy because “transparency is the best way” to maintain public trust.
“If we can get an idea or opinion that this is the right strategy going forward, I think that will give trust to the public as well,” Keir Starmer said.