People in the UK are still none the wiser about how exactly the Government plans to take the country out of the coronavirus lockdown.
Ministers have dismissed reports that the Government has drawn up a graduated plan to start easing restrictions within weeks, with Michael Gove saying that there are tests which need to be passed before any restrictions can be lifted.
But Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he hopes some lockdown measures could begin to be lifted within around three or four weeks’ time if the numbers of infections and hospital patients drop “dramatically”.
Sir Jeremy, an infectious diseases expert and director of the Wellcome Trust, told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “I would hope they will get there in three-four weeks’ time because it’s clear that the lockdown can’t go on for much longer.
Lockdowns cannot go on forever, we must lift them as soon as we can but we can't lift them too soon and we can't just make arbitrary dates It has to be driven, I'm afraid, by the dataSir Jeremy Farrar, Wellcome Trust
“The damage it’s doing to all of our health and wellbeing, our mental health… the lockdown is damaging business and ultimately that’s damaging all of our lives.
“So the lockdowns cannot go on forever, we must lift them as soon as we can but we can’t lift them too soon and we can’t just make arbitrary dates.
“It has to be driven, I’m afraid, by the data.”
Sir Jeremy said he thinks the UK was past the peak of the “first wave” of the virus.
“We should not see this as a discrete episode. I think the probability of what we must be planning for is that there would be further waves of this in the future.
“But for this first wave I think the number of new infections stabilised maybe a week or two ago, the number of hospitalisations maybe a week or so ago… we’re probably just past the peak in many parts of this country, as is true in many parts of the world,” he said.
But he cautioned: “If we were to release those lockdowns too soon whilst the infection rates are still high… then the epidemic would come back again, it would come back very quickly.
“It would rebound within a few weeks or a couple of months.”
No decision has been made on when we will reopen schools.— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) April 19, 2020
I can reassure schools and parents that they will only reopen when the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to do so.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove denied suggestions a “traffic light” strategy is about to be brought in which would see some schools and businesses allowed to reopen in mid-May.
He said: “It is the case that we are looking at all of the evidence, but we have set some tests which need to be passed before we can think of easing restrictions in this lockdown.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson tweeted: “No decision has been made on when we will reopen schools.
“I can reassure schools and parents that they will only reopen when the scientific advice indicates it is the right time to do so.”
Senior Tory MPS have warned that ministers are under-estimating the public by refusing to discuss exit strategies for ending the lockdown.
Backbenchers and former ministers say there needs to be “strategic clarity” and that the argument put forward by the Government about not wanting to “confuse the message” is not the right way forward.