Boris Johnson has urged Britain to “keep going…so we can protect our NHS and save lives” amid suggestions the UK lockdown will continue until June.
In a series of tweets, the Prime Minister reiterated calls for people to stick with the lockdown, saying he understood how “hard and how stressful it has been” to not see family and friends, to worry about jobs and to manage children not in school.
The move came just over an hour before Mr Johnson fronts his first Downing Street press conference since recovering from coronavirus.
With the UK’s Covid-19 death toll now the third highest in the world after the US and Italy, Downing Street also played down any expectations of an easing of restrictions.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman hinted measures would stay in place when asked about reports that the lockdown may be extended until June.
He told a Westminster briefing: “What you’ve obviously heard from (England’s chief medical officer) Chris Whitty is that this is a disease that is going to be around for a significant amount of time – he’s said we have to be realistic, we’re going to have to do a lot of things for a long period of time.”
The spokesman added: “Let’s not pre-empt the review but, as the PM himself has said, the worst thing we could do is relax the social distancing measures too soon and throw away all of the progress which has been made thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of the British public.”
But this response is facing further criticism as Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s deadline arrived for carrying out 100,000 Covid-19 tests a day.
With just over 52,000 tests carried out on Tuesday, the deadline looks set to be missed although that will not become clear until Friday.
The target has been condemned by NHS Providers as a “red herring” which distracts from shortcomings in the long-term coronavirus strategy.
Downing Street insisted the Government is “working hard” to hit its 100,000 test target by the end of the day.
The PM’s spokesman said that as of April 28, testing capacity had been increased to 77,365 and told a Westminster briefing: “The target is for 100,000 tests today and the Health Secretary and all of his team are working hard to hit it.”
"The evidence shows we are still passing through the peak in overall cases."@ChrisCEOHopson responds to today's press briefing and says the figures give a clearer picture of the terrible impact of this virus.— NHS Providers (@NHSProviders) April 29, 2020
Read our full statement: https://t.co/LK8cDBoFXl pic.twitter.com/SnyivAZMuq
On Thursday morning, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland acknowledged the 100,000 target may not be met.
“Even if it isn’t met, we’re well on our way to ramping this up and 100,000 is an important milestone, but frankly we need more,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“If he (Matt Hancock) hadn’t set a target he would have been criticised for being unambitious. I think now is the time in respect of this to be bold… being brave is something we should acknowledge even if the target isn’t met today.”
The testing deadline was reached as:
– An international clinical trial, co-led by University College London and the UK’s Medical Research Council, found the Ebola drug remdesivir speeds up recovery from coronavirus by almost a third.
– The University of Oxford and AstraZeneca joined forces for the large-scale manufacture and distribution of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine if it is proven to work during clinical trials.
– Supermarket giant Sainsbury’s and banking group Lloyds warned of hits to profits from the coronavirus crisis.
– Captain Tom Moore celebrated his 100th birthday at home with his family after a whirlwind few weeks in which he has been elevated to national hero status and raised more than £30 million for the NHS.
Thursday’s Cabinet and a gathering of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) come as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that easing lockdown would not be a “flick of the switch moment”.
Sage is looking at a selection of options for easing restrictions while keeping the reproduction rate of the coronavirus – the number of new cases linked to a single individual – below one to stop it spreading exponentially.
Germany saw a rise in that rate after easing its own lockdown.
With some Tory backbenchers pressing for an easing of measures for the sake of the economy, Business Secretary Alok Sharma is set to put forward plans for an eventual “workplace by workplace” approach.
A Business Department spokesman said: “The Government has already set out five clear tests to consider before making any adjustment to its approach.
“It is only right the we work together with industry and unions to ensure workplaces are safe for both those in work now and for those going back to work as Government measures develop.”
But Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday night that she was “far from convinced” measures could be eased on the next review date of May 7.
“People talk about lifting the lockdown, that is not going to be a flick of the switch moment – we’re going to have to be very careful, very slow, very gradual.
“I’m far from convinced at this stage that when we get to the next review point on the 7th of May we’ll be in a position to lift any of these measures right now, because the margins of manoeuvre that we’re operating in right now are very, very, very tight and narrow.”
Her comments came after it was announced that a total of 26,097 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community in the UK after contracting Covid-19.
It is the first time data on the number of deaths in care homes and the wider community has been included in the Government’s daily updates.
The total is around 17% higher than previous data showed and includes an additional 3,811 deaths recorded since the start of the outbreak.
Of these, around 70% were outside hospital settings.
The change in measurement means the UK death toll is the third highest in the world, behind the US and Italy, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.
The US had reported 58,355 deaths and Italy 27,359.
The Government pointed out other countries may report figures differently and any lag is unclear, although France and Italy also include deaths in care homes.