Dominic Raab has said the UK “must keep going” with lockdown measures as he warned against giving coronavirus “a second chance to kill more people”.
The foreign secretary, speaking at Downing Street’s daily briefing, said the government did not expect to be able to give more details on when coronavirus lockdown measures might be lifted until the end of next week.
He urged people to stay home over the Easter weekend, saying social distancing “will have to stay in place” until there was evidence that “clearly shows we’ve moved beyond the peak” of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are not done yet, we must keep going,” said Mr Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while the prime minister remains in hospital.
Although there are “early signs” the lockdown measures – which have been in place for approaching three weeks – are “having the impact we need to see”, the foreign secretary stressed it was “too early to say that conclusively”.
“The deaths are still rising and we haven’t yet reached the peak of the virus, so it’s still too early to lift the measures that we put in place,” he said.
“We must stick to the plan.”
The comments came as another 881 patients were reported to have died in the UK after contracting coronavirus – bringing the total to 7,978.
When the government first introduced the lockdown measures, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised to “look again” at the restrictions after three weeks and “relax them if the evidence shows we are able to”.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which advises ministers, will meet next week to discuss the latest evidence on the spread of coronavirus across the UK.
Ahead of an Easter weekend for which warm and sunny weather is forecast, Mr Raab added fresh emphasis to the government’s instruction for people to stay at home, as he urged people to “think about the sacrifices” of frontline NHS workers.
“After all the efforts everybody has made, after all the sacrifices so many people have made, let’s not ruin it now,” the foreign secretary said.
“Let’s not undo the gains we’ve made, let’s not waste the sacrifices so many people have made.
“We mustn’t give the coronavirus a second chance to kill more people and to hurt our country.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, also stressed the importance of Britons continuing to keep distance between themselves and others in order to break the transmission of coronavirus.
He said: “The measures that everybody has taken, the difficult things that we’ve all had to do, are making a difference, they’re making a big difference.
“We know that the social distancing is working.”
There is beginning to be a “flattening off” in the number of hospital admissions, Sir Patrick added.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty revealed the amount of time it was taking for the number of coronavirus infections to double had slowed from “about three days” to “six or more days in almost everywhere in the country”.
Responding to Mr Raab’s comments at the Downing Street briefing, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We’ve said previously that a lockdown in itself is a blunt tool without a national strategy for community testing and contact tracing.
“We’re calling on ministers to outline the next stage of their strategy to give the public the reassurance and clarity they expect.”
On Thursday evening, Mr Raab hosted a call with opposition party leaders – including new Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer – to update them on the government’s coronavirus response.
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He had earlier chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee, which was joined by senior ministers and the leaders of devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
They were expected to have discussed how a decision about whether to extend coronavirus lockdown measures in the UK will be taken.
Mr Raab also once again chaired the daily morning meeting of the government’s coronavirus “war cabinet” in the prime minister’s absence.