Coronavirus: Government set to extend UK lockdown as ministers plead with Britons to stay home over Easter

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
A sign outside Edinburgh Castle which is closed due to coronavirus. (PA)

The government is set to extend its coronavirus lockdown into May.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the prime minister while he is in intensive care, will chair a Cobra emergency committee on Thursday afternoon to discuss the lockdown measures with leaders of the devolved nations.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who was set to be part of the meeting, earlier said there was no possibility of any relaxation of the restrictions.

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford also said: “I don’t think anybody believes that we’re simply going to return to where we were before next week. The current arrangements will need to continue.”

With Wednesday seeing a rise of 938 in the number of deaths in hospitals of patients who tested positive for COVID-19, the highest new total so far, and Boris Johnson still in hospital, there seems little chance of the lockdown being lifted.

The government said they would review the lockdown after three weeks but it is expected that a relaxation of the rules will only come after numbers decrease.

With temperatures predicted to rise over the Easter weekend, culture secretary Oliver Dowden warned that now is not time to give up the lockdown measures.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab is set to chair a Cobra meeting that will discuss a lockdown extension. (AP)
Temperatures are set to rise over the Easter weekend. (Met Office)

He told Sky News: “We are beginning to make progress on this, we’ve not seen the acceleration you would have expected had we not introduced this, the curve is beginning to flatten.

“This is the moment that we need to stick to the path we’ve chosen.

“The British people have really come behind this, we shouldn’t be giving up this Easter weekend, that is the number one thing.”

While millions of people are following orders not to embark on an Easter getaway, some have been caught breaking lockdown rules and travelling to tourist hotspots.

Road traffic levels on Thursday morning were similar to those seen in the past week, indicating that most people are staying at home on what is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year for leisure travel.

An AA survey carried out shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic began suggested that around 26 million leisure journeys by road had been planned for the Easter weekend.

Although the vast majority of these trips are no longer taking place, some people have been caught not adhering to the lockdown guidance to avoid non-essential travel.

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Cumbria Constabulary caught several people travelling to the Lake District from outside the area.

These include a group travelling in two cars, one of which was a Lamborghini luxury sports car, who “decided it was too nice to stay in Bolton”.

As Britain gets used to life in lockdown, Sung-Il Cho, professor of epidemiology at Seoul National University, told The Daily Telegraph that a “gradual recovery” would only start to happen if cases fell below 50 every day for a fortnight.

Modelling by the newspaper found that this would mean waiting until the middle of next month before the UK ended a full lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Welsh health minister said progress was being made as a result of lockdown measures and social distancing, but there was “zero prospect” of experts advising these can be eased yet.

But speaking ahead of the Cobra meeting, Vaughan Gething said the lockdown measures will continue for “a number of weeks”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “With the scientific group on emergency advising all four governments across the UK, there is virtually zero prospect of their advice being that it is safe and appropriate to remove lockdown measures now.”

A sign on a park gate reminds people to social distance from other park users by two metres in London. (PA)

In Northern Ireland, Stormont minister Deirdre Hargey indicated there will be no relaxation of restrictions there at next week's review.

On Wednesday, former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was “reasonable” to suggest that the lockdown could continue for another month.

He added that Italy and other countries had shown that Britain could expect the peak of the disease to last for some time.

A sign asking for donations for a COVID-19 mutual aid charity in London. (PA)

A Downing Street source agreed it was unlikely that restrictions would be lifted before the end of the month.

The restrictions face their toughest test so far over the Easter weekend, with temperatures set to reach 25C (77F) in some parts of the country, which could tempt more people to break the stay at home rules.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to "speculate" about the future of the lockdown, instead confirming there would be a review of the measures "in and around three weeks" after they started.

The three-week mark will be reached on Easter Monday, while legislation designed to assist with the containment must also be reviewed at least once every 21 days – with the first due to be carried out by 16 April at the latest.

Sunak sidestepped questions about the prospect of different parts of the UK emerging from the lockdown at different times.

Deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean, addressing the same question, said she suspected "simple strategies might well turn out to be the best to use”.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said Britons have responded "really well" to the measures but told ITV's Peston: "It's not a case of just throwing that away but in making sure, as we have done every step of the way in our plan, we listen to our experts, we come to a judgement and more of that will be discussed (on Thursday).”

The PM's three-week review into the lockdown measures had been due on Monday, but Downing Street is now saying it will be "on or around" that day.

The chancellor said the evidence to inform any review "will only be available next week”.

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