UK will stay in lockdown until scientists say otherwise, says health minister

8 April 2020, 10:36

London's Regent Street deserted in the coronavirus lockdown
London's Regent Street deserted in the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Ministers today said that it is too soon for the UK to begin lifting coronavirus lockdown measures and that changes will only occur on further scientific advice.

The UK's initial three-week lockdown period was due to be reviewed on Easter Monday, there were also warnings it could be another week and a half before the UK sees the peak of the outbreak.

The World Health Organisation in Europe also said this morning that it was not yet the time to relax lockdown measures.

Health minister Edward Argar made clear today that now is not the time to start easing the restrictions.

He told LBC: “The decision will be made when the scientists say is the right time to make it.

"The reason we have these restrictions is because the scientific advice is that it would slow down this virus… but also help beat it.

Edward Argar said the lockdown will remain in place until scientific advisers say otherwise
Edward Argar said the lockdown will remain in place until scientific advisers say otherwise. Picture: PA

“When the scientists tell us that they believe the measures have had sufficient effect to bring down that peak they will advise us it’s the time to make changes but we are not there yet.

"Please, don’t relent, stick to following those rules. I can’t give you a date or a time because that will be determined by the scientific evidence."

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He added later: "We need to start seeing the numbers coming down and that's when you're in the negative.

"That's when you have a sense when that's sustained over a period of time, that you can see it coming out of that.

"We're not there yet and I don't exactly know when we will be. The scientists will tell us that they are constantly modelling the data and they're constantly looking at those stats.

"We should also remember there is always a lag of a couple of weeks in the hospitalisation and death rate data behind the actions that we've taken to try to slow it down, because that's the nature of the disease."

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Boris Johnson last night spent a second night in intensive care undergoing treatment for the disease.

The Prime Minister's condition remains "stable", according to the latest bulletin from Downing Street.

He was said to be in "good spirits" in St Thomas' Hospital in London where he is undergoing "close monitoring" after his condition worsened on Monday.

Mr Johnson had on Monday been due to oversee a three-week review of the lockdown rules - brought in last month to curb the spread of the disease.

On Tuesday Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said ministers first need to see evidence that the measures are working.

The Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the figures "could be moving in the right direction", but suggested they need another "week or so" before they could be sure.

Meanwhile the first of the NHS Nightingale hospitals, at London's ExCel centre, received its first patients on Tuesday.

The Nightingale was built to boost treatment capacity in London, but officials stressed limits have not yet been reached at other sites across the capital

An NHS Nightingale London spokeswoman said: "There is also treatment capacity available in other hospitals across London to complement the care being provided at the London Nightingale."

The admissions come just two weeks after the temporary hospital with a planned capacity of 4,000 was formally announced, but later than had initially been expected.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the capital now has the capacity it needs to deal with the epidemic.

"At the moment we've still got 25%, about there, capacity within the NHS (in London) before we even go to Nightingale, so it demonstrates the can-do attitude of not just Londoners but those around the country who have helped us get ready for the peak of this virus," he told BBC Breakfast.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump claimed on Tuesday night that the UK had called the US with an urgent plea for 200 ventilators, as ministers seek to scramble to boost capacity for the sickest of patients.

The president said: "We're going to work it out, we've got to work it out. They've been great partners. They wanted 200, they need them desperately."

Meanwhile Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has said the UK needs to learn from the example of Germany where the number of deaths appears to be growing more slowly.

"We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus and there's a lot to learn from that and we've been trying to learn the lessons from that," he said.