Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has rejected fresh calls for an early easing of the coronavirus lockdown, saying the outbreak was still at a “delicate and dangerous” stage.
The Government is coming under intense pressure from senior Tories to relax the strict social-distancing measures, amid concern at the damage they are doing to the economy.
But Mr Raab, who has been standing in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson while he recovers from the disease, said the Government would proceed “cautiously” in order to avoid a second peak in the outbreak.
“We are at a delicate and dangerous stage,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.
“We need to make sure that the next steps are sure-footed, which is why we are proceeding very cautiously and we are sticking to the scientific advice with the social-distancing measures at this time, whilst doing all the homework to make sure that we are prepared in due course for the next phase.”
Mr Raab brushed off a call from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for the Government to set out an “exit strategy” explaining how the lockdown could eventually be lifted.
“Until we can be confident, based on the scientific advice, that we are making sure-footed steps going forward that protect life, but also preserve our way of life, frankly it is not responsible to start speculating about the individual measures,” he said.
Mr Johnson is due to return to work in Downing Street on Monday, after spending the past fortnight recuperating at his official country residence, Chequers.
Mr Raab said: “He is in good spirits. He is raring to go. He is looking forward to getting back at the reins on Monday.”
The Foreign Secretary confirmed that the Government was considering checks on people arriving at sea ports and airports in the UK.
Reports in The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday said officials were drawing up plans for passengers to be quarantined for 14 days after entering the country.
Ministers have previously rejected such an approach, arguing it would have little impact given the low numbers coming into the UK and the rate of community transmission in the country.
However Mr Raab said that could change as the scientific advice evolved.
“It might do. I can’t say with any certainty yet. Whether it is a quarantine period, or testing or other measures that might be taken, it is possible,” he told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“I ask this question every week – ‘Can we check there aren’t measures at the border at the current level of the coronavirus challenge that we face that would make a difference?’ We will keep asking that question.”
Even before he was back, Mr Johnson was facing calls from a series of wealthy Tory backers who have donated millions of pounds to the party coffers to begin lifting the lockdown to allow the economy to start up again.
Financiers Michael Spencer and Peter Hargreaves, the banker Sir Henry Angest, Phones4u founder John Caudwell and restaurateur Richard Caring all told The Sunday Times they wanted to see some re-opening of the economy.
Steve Morgan, the former boss of the housebuilder Redrow, told the paper: “We’re actually in danger that the medicine – if you want to call the lockdown that – is more harmful than the cure.”
Meanwhile First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned she could delay any lifting of the restrictions in Scotland if she thought the Government at Westminster was moving too quickly.
“If, and it is an if, I’m not saying that we’re likely to get in to this territory, the UK Government took decisions that I thought were premature in terms of coming out of the lockdown then clearly I would want to make sure that Scotland did what I judged was best to protect the population,” she told The Andrew Marr Show.
For Labour, shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves said the Government needed to show a clear way forward if they were to continue to take the public with them.
“People have by and large stuck by the rules that have been put in place and because they’ve done that I think it is even more important that we communicate with them, treat them like grown-ups, in where we’re going next,” she told The Andrew Marr Show.