Some social distancing measures will remain in place until a coronavirus vaccine has been developed but ministers will seek to restore people’s lives to “as close to normal as possible”, Michael Gove has said.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster warned that people would have to live with “some degree of constraint” until they can be immunised against the deadly disease – suggesting Britons would have to accept a “new normal”.
A total of 28,446 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday.
Mr Gove revealed that the number of daily coronavirus tests in the last 24 hours had fallen to 76,496 – below the Government’s 100,000 daily testing target – which was blamed on lower uptake over the weekend.
The Cabinet minister told the daily Downing Street press conference: “Ultimately, unless and until we have a vaccine then I suspect that we are going to have to live with some degree of constraint because of the nature of the virus.
“But we obviously want to, wherever possible, and consistent with the measures on public health, restore people’s lives to as close to normal as possible.”
He said the Government will pursue a “phased approach” to removing lockdown restrictions rather than a sudden return to “the old normal” – and that the easing had to be done in a “cautious fashion”.
NHS England’s national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said it was “really difficult” to know how the virus would play out in the months and years ahead.
He said there was “hope” that a solution – either a vaccine or drugs – would be found sooner than might have been hoped 10 or 20 years ago, though it is “impossible to say when that will be”.
“But it’s certainly true to say that we will need to adapt to a new normal until we get to that point.”
Human trials of a vaccine developed by Oxford University began last month, with scientists aiming to have a million doses ready by September if efficacy tests go well.
Mr Gove said Boris Johnson would set out on Thursday how the country can get back to work, get the economy moving, return children to school and travel to work more safely.
“We’re consulting with employers and unions, professionals and public health experts, to establish how we can ensure that we have the safest possible working environments, and the Prime Minister will be saying more later this week,” he explained.
Earlier on Sunday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned life would not return to “business as usual” when the Prime Minister sets out his exit strategy.
And he admitted that fewer Britons would have died from coronavirus if more tests had been available earlier.
Mr Shapps said “many things” could have been different if the UK’s testing capacity was above 100,000 before Covid-19 spread in the country.
He also confirmed the NHSX contact tracing app – which he said would need 50%-60% of people to use for it to be successful – will be trialled on the Isle of Wight this week before being rolled out later this month.
– A former Government chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, has assembled a group of experts to look at how the UK could work its way out of the lockdown in response to concerns over the “lack of transparency” coming from the Sage group of advisers.
– Conservative peer and former minister Baroness Ros Altmann said a requirement for older people to remain in lockdown longer as restrictions are lifted for the rest of the country would be “age discrimination”.
– Prof Powis said Government advisers now believe the R value – the number of people that one infected person will pass the virus to, on average – to be “around 0.7”.
– Former head of the army General Lord Dannatt and ex-chief of the defence staff General Lord Richards backed calls for health workers to be given daily allowances like those given to soldiers in war zones.
– Professor Sir Ian Diamond, UK national statistician, cautioned against international comparisons of death figures and warned that a “lengthy and deep recession” could lead to increased deaths.
In an interview with BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Shapps was asked whether fewer people would have died if testing capacity had been greater sooner.
He replied: “Yes. If we had had 100,000 test capacity before this thing started and the knowledge that we now have retrospectively, I’m sure many things could be different.
“The fact of the matter is this is not a country that had – although we’re very big in pharmaceuticals as a country – we’re not a country that had very large test capacity.”
He also revealed that he was “actively looking at” quarantining people travelling to Britain from abroad to keep coronavirus infection rates under control.
It comes as Mr Johnson revealed that doctors prepared to announce his death as he battled coronavirus in hospital last month.
The Prime Minister spent three nights in intensive care at St Thomas’ in London with the disease, where he said medics gave him “litres and litres of oxygen”.
He described it as a “tough old moment”, telling the Sun On Sunday: “They had a strategy to deal with a ‘death of Stalin’-type scenario.
“I was not in particularly brilliant shape and I was aware there were contingency plans in place.
“The doctors had all sorts of arrangements for what to do if things went badly wrong.”