Dominic Raab read the riot act to Britons ahead of the sunny Easter weekend tonight saying lockdown must stay in force until the coronavirus outbreak peaks.
The Foreign Secretary appealed to the public to keep following social distancing rules as he took the daily Downing Street briefing, insisting there will be no more information about changes to the draconian curbs until at least the end of next week.
In a stark message, Mr Raab – deputising for Boris Johnson as he is treated in intensive care – said the disease must not be allowed to ‘kill more people and hurt our country’. ‘We’re not done yet. We must keep going,’ he said.
However, ministers are facing a mounting backlash for stonewalling over their coronavirus ‘exit plan’, amid fears of massive damage to the economy. Mr Raab hinted this evening that they are avoiding doing so to avoid people ‘taking their eye off the ball’. ‘We will make the right decisions at the right moment and we will be guided by the science,’ he said.
The comments came after Mr Raab chaired the Cobra crisis meeting this afternoon, and the UK recorded another 881 deaths – although in a small relief numbers fell back from the high of almost 1,000 declared yesterday.
Far from easing the lockdown, police have been urging tighter restrictions such as barring people from driving long distances and making it illegal to exercise more than once a day – although Home Secretary Priti Patel batted away the calls tonight.
But the trade-offs involved in the national effort are becoming increasingly clear, with claims two million people have already lost their jobs.
The respected IFS think-tank has warned that more than a million people might suffer long-term illness as a result of the economic misery.
Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer said ministers must spell out their ‘exit strategy’. ‘I’m not calling for precise timings, but the strategy,’ he said. ‘This is incredibly difficult on people and we need to know that plans are in place, and what they are.’
Downing Street insisted planning is under way across Whitehall for the restrictions to be eased – but flatly refused to say what that might involve, saying the government’s focus is on tackling the epidemic.