The government is expected to announce an extension of the UK’s coronavirus restrictions later today, as health minister Nadine Dorries suggested “full lockdown” would be required until a vaccine for COVID-19 is found.
The current measures have been in place for more than three weeks, and this morning the cabinet will receive a briefing on the latest scientific and medical advice via video conference, before a COBRA meeting chaired by First Secretary of State Dominic Raab.
Mr Raab, who is deputising for the Prime Minister as he continues his recovery from COVID-19, is expected to set out the reasoning behind the government’s decision at the daily briefing from Downing Street.
However, Health minister Nadine Dorries last night posted on Twitter criticising those asking questions about the issue.
“Journalists should stop asking about an ‘exit strategy’,” she wrote.
“There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine. Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy.”
Journalists should stop asking about an ‘exit strategy.’ There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine. Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy . #COVID19
— Nadine Dorries 🇬🇧 (@NadineDorries) April 15, 2020
When challenged over her comments Ms Dorries, who has herself recovered from coronavirus, attempted to clarify them saying: “I said society needs to adapt. It would be more helpful to talk about ‘relaxing lockdown’ than constantly demanding an ‘exit strategy’.
“My point being, some of you guys need to start asking more intelligent questions.”
On Wednesday England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said that while the UK is “probably” reaching the peak of the outbreak it is not yet “past the peak”, and warned increases in the daily death toll were expected this week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We cannot let up in our efforts. We cannot let go of the hard work that’s been done so far. This shared sacrifice is starting to work but we will not lift these measures until it is safe to do so”.
But asked why the government had refused to discuss its “exit strategy”, as other European countries such as Germany and Italy have done, Mr Hancock said: “Different countries are in different stages in this epidemic, and one of the things that I think we have learnt during this crisis is that the clarity of the guidance to the public is incredibly important and hence we repeat it.”
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It echoed a comment made by Dominic Raab at Monday’s Downing Street briefing in which he said it was too early to lift restrictions and that there was a need “keep our eye on the ball” and not shift public focus from the government’s core advice to stay at home.
The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he would support an extension of the current social distancing measures and business closures, but argues the government must publish its strategy for lifting the restrictions to ensure “transparency” and maintain public confidence.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said it could take more than a week for advisers to be able to provide clear guidance to ministers on what restrictions could be safely lifted.
Prof witty said: “The more we have an understanding of where [the transmission rate] is, which will happen as we go over the next ten days or so, the more easy it is for us to judge exactly how we can go through to the next phase in a way that is properly evidence-based.”
While the emergency regulations passed by parliament require a review of restrictions every three weeks, it is understood the government are likely to refrain from putting a specific time frame on the announcement that lockdown measures will be extended and instead will insist all restrictions will be kept under active review.
Although the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the powers to choose different measures, so far the whole of the UK has acted in the same way.