The Government has refused to commit to explaining what it needs to see happen before it begins lifting the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, which will be in place for at least another week.
Speaking at Thursday night’s Downing Street press conference, Dominic Raab, the First Secretary of State, said it was “too early” to start lifting the shutdown measures put in place nearly three weeks ago.
Mr Raab, deputising for Boris Johnson while he is in hospital, suggested ministers will not even begin reviewing the measures until the end of next week.
The Government has said it will not have the required data to consider lifting the lockdown until its scientific advisers meet later that week.
A Government source said on Thursday that the lockdown would continue until the public is told otherwise, adding that the message to people is: “This weekend stay at home, and next week stay at home.”
Asked whether the Government would explain to the public what evidence it is looking to see in order to start ending the lockdown, Mr Raab said: “We will make the right decisions at the right moments and will be guided by the science.”
The German government has given an indication of what its path out of lockdown could look like.
Mr Raab added that the UK was focused on making sure people do not “undo all the good work” by becoming “more lax or failing to follow the guidance at just the moment where we need to make sure we double down”.
He said: “It’s been almost three weeks, and we’re starting to see the impact of the sacrifices we’ve all made. But 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. We must stick to the plan, and we must continue to be guided by the science.”
Asked whether he had the authority to lift the lockdown while Mr Johnson remains in hospital, Mr Raab said: “I’ve got all the authority to make the relevant decisions. We in the Government have got this covered.”
On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman, asked about whether the Government has an exit strategy in place for ending the lockdown, said: “Extensive work is taking place across Whitehall on this. But we have not yet reached a peak of this pandemic.”
Mr Raab chaired a Cobra meeting to discuss the process of reviewing the lockdown with the devolved administrations. Speaking later at the press conference, he said data was still being gathered on the impact of social distancing and the closure of many businesses, which would be analysed by the Government’s Sage science committee.
“While the early signs suggest that they are having the impact we need to see, it’s too early to say that conclusively,” he said. “Sage will meet next week to discuss the latest evidence, and we will keep the measures we’ve put in place under review. We don’t expect to be able to say more on this until the end of next week.”
Announcing the lockdown on March 23, Mr Johnson said in a televised address: “I can assure you that we will keep these restrictions under constant review. We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.”
However, Mr Raab said on Thursday: “The measures will have to stay in place until we’ve got the evidence that clearly shows we’ve moved beyond the peak.”
He urged people not to take their “eye off the ball” and visit family members or sunbathe during the Easter weekend.
“After all the efforts everybody has made, after all the sacrifices so many people have made, let’s not ruin it now,” he 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.”
The developments come as a former senior Tory Cabinet minister urged ministers need to be more “open” about communicating the choices they face when deciding whether to lift or extend the lockdown.
Sir David Lidington, who was Theresa May’s de facto Prime Minister, told Chopper’s Politics podcast: “There’s merit in ministers being just open with the public about the inherent complexity and uncertainty of many of the decisions that they are taking.
“People are learning this, and I think the public understands that and I think the public is grown up and is prepared, in this current crisis, to hear from ministers about some of the problems that they are they are wrestling with.”