Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted Dominic Raab’s coronavirus crisis meeting today by declaring there is ‘no possibility’ of lockdown being lifted any time soon.
The Scottish First Minister confirmed the UK faces weeks more of draconian curbs, saying there was not yet enough evidence the ‘social distancing’ measures had the outbreak under control.
The intervention, which will infuriate ministers, comes after the daily death toll surged to almost 1,000 yesterday, its highest level yet.
Amid alarm that Britons could take to beaches and parks over a sunny Easter weekend, police are even urging tighter restrictions such as barring people from driving long distances and making it illegal to exercise more than once a day.
Mr Raab is chairing the Cobra meeting this afternoon with Boris Johnson still recovering in hospital, and is expected to send a strong signal that lockdown will continue afterwards, despite growing concern about the economy being crippled.
But speaking on Sky News, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I don’t think there is any possibility, any likelihood of these lockdown measures being lifted immediately, or even imminently.’
She added: ‘I wouldn’t expect any change coming out of today’s Cobra meeting but we will see where the discussions take us.’
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden confirmed this morning that a legally-required review to extend emergency measures will take place next week.
But while insisting that will be the ‘formal’ decision, he gave a strong hint there will not be any change. ‘It is essential we stay the course,’ he said. ‘The guidance very much remains in place and will continue to remain in place over the Easter weekend.’
Senior politicians are set to launch a ‘Stay at Home This Easter’ publicity drive designed to avert an exodus of sunseekers.
But the government is facing growing anger over the lack of clarity on how and when the lockdown measures might start to be eased, as it puts millions of jobs at risk and threatens to permanently damage businesses,
Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer said today that 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.’
On another punishing day as the world navigates the biggest crisis in a generation:
- Mr Dowden said that Mr Johnson is ‘getting better’ and was sitting up ‘engaging’ with medical staff treating him at St Thomas’ hospital;
- A respected think-tank has warned that a million people could end up with long-term health conditions as a result of the economic hit from coronavirus lockdown;
- The Bank of England has extended the government’s Ways and Means provision – effectively its overdraft;
- It has emerged that MPs have been offered an extra £10,000 in expenses to help them and staff work from home;
- EU officials have accused the UK government of being in ‘fantasy land’ by insisting the Brexit transition period cannot be extended beyond December;
Ministers will commit the UK to weeks more coronavirus lockdown as Dominic Raab (pictured in Whitehall today) chairs a Cobra crisis meeting for the first time with Boris Johnson still in intensive care
Nicola Sturgeon pre-empted Dominic Raab’s coronavirus crisis meeting today by declaring there is ‘no possibility’ of lockdown being lifted any time soon
Boris Johnson is still in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital in central London today, although the Prime Minister’s condition is said to be ‘improving’
The number of patients in intensive care with coronavirus has stabilised in the past week, in a sign the outbreak is slowing
VACCINE ‘COULD BE READY BY AUTUMN’, SAY OXFORD SCIENTISTS
Oxford University researchers are confident they can roll out a vaccine for coronavirus within the next eight months.
This ‘best case scenario’ is much sooner than was previously touted. Britain’s chief scientific adviser said it would be at least 2021 until a vaccine was ready.
But the Oxford team, one of hundreds worldwide racing to develop a COVID-19 cure, warned it will be ‘challenging’ if the outbreak peaks before a jab is ready for trials.
With no tests available to identify who has already been infected it could be difficult to find unexposed people to take part in the trial, the researchers say.
More than 500 volunteers aged between 18 and 55 have signed up to the trial and will begin tests towards the end of the month.
Modelling by researchers at the University of Washington predicts Britain will hit its peak on April 17. So far the virus has killed 7,100 and infected 55,000 in the UK.
The researchers told The Telegraph: ‘The best-case scenario is that by the autumn of 2020 we have the results about the effectiveness of the vaccine from a phase III trial and the ability to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine.’
They admitted that this time frame was ‘highly ambitious’ many things could get in the way of that target.
‘At the moment it is not possible to identify who has already been infected,’ they added, ‘and if the virus is spreading quickly throughout the population it might be difficult to find unexposed people to take part in the trial.
‘Conducting trials after the peak subsides presents another problem, because so many people will have developed a natural immunity by then, and the amount of transmission will have dropped so that those who are still not immune will take longer to be exposed to the virus.’
There were growing concerns last night over the economic impact of coronavirus as the World Trade Organisation warned of the ‘deepest recession in our lifetimes’.
The British Chambers of Commerce warned that furloughing staff could cost taxpayers £50billion over the next three months.
Mr Sunak said a UK-wide decision would not be taken until next week when the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies reports. He also admitted there would be economic ‘hardship ahead’.
Professor Stephen Powis of NHS England said the lockdown was working. But he added: ‘We have to continue following instructions, we have to continue following social distancing – if we don’t, the virus will start to spread again.’
Polling by King’s College London and Ipsos Mori showed nine out of ten people support the lockdown.
Sung-Il Cho, professor of epidemiology at Seoul National University, told The Daily Telegraph that cases ought to drop below 50 per fortnight before moves towards a ‘gradual recovery.’
Modelling by the newspaper found that for the UK that would mean waiting until the middle of next month.
The South Koreans have been able to bring the virus to heel by a stringent testing regime, contact tracing and quarantines. They have recorded just 200 deaths without imposing a lockdown and record 53 new cases each day.
Professor Chis Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, echoed Mr Sunak, saying that there would be no talk of an exit strategy until ‘we are confident we are beyond the peak.’
However, experts have warned that returning to life after lockdown won’t be a return to normality. Many anticipate that there will be a vicious resurgence of the disease in the autumn.
Prof David Alexander, of University College London’s institute for risk and disaster reduction, told The Telegraph: ‘Britain and other countries should hold themselves ready to return to lockdown, possibly with more stringent conditions than before. In the autumn, a second wave of Covid-19 could occur and could be devastating.’
Another option is to allow the young and healthy to return to work, while others continue with the strict ‘stay at home’ guidance.
But the majorities of scientists believe the government will opt for the strategy of beating the numbers of cases down to a tiny level before proceeding with any liberation of the populace.
There can be a time lag of more than three weeks between someone becoming infected with coronavirus and dying. Symptoms take days – if not weeks – to become life-threatening. The death has to be recorded and reported, and the family notified, in a process that takes days
Charts show how the UK’s coronavirus death toll compares to counts in other nations, including Italy
BORIS JOHNSON ‘RESPONDING TO TREATMENT’ IN NHS INTENSIVE CARE UNIT
Boris Johnson is ‘stable and responding to treatment’ after his second night in intensive care, it was revealed today.
Downing Street delivered slightly more positive news about the PM’s condition amid claims his fever has finally dropped.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said he continues to receive ‘standard oxygen treatment’ and is ‘breathing without any other assistance’ – making clear he is not on a ventilator.
‘The Prime Minister remains clinically stable and is responding to treatment,’ the spokesman said.
‘He continues to be cared for in the intensive care unit at St Thomas’s Hospital. He’s in good spirits.’
No10 confirmed the PM has not been doing any work, although they said he has been in contact with aides.
There are fears that even the best outcome from his coronavirus struggle will see him out of action for weeks, with experts warning he could need a ‘phased return’ to work.
There are also questions about the PM’s care while he was in isolation, amid suggestions he was not physically monitored and only consulted a doctor by video link.
Tory MPs are calling for a review of the premier’s medical arrangements, saying the lack of protection has been ‘exposed’ by the latest crisis.
The UK leader has starkly different health support than in the US, where the president has a dedicated medical team and emergency facilities constantly on standby.
And even if that were achieved, life would not suddenly resume as it was before the draconian measures were placed upon us. Dr Joe Grove, of UCL’s department of infection and immunity, told The Telegraph: ‘Once the current epidemic peak has passed, simply returning to life as usual would likely trigger another epidemic.
‘Ultimately, the only way we can shake off the shackles of Covid-19 is widespread immunity and the only safe way to achieve that is through vaccination. In the meantime, testing gives us a route to some semblance of normality.’
Downing Street has meanwhile expressed grave fears that people will defy its regulations to go out and enjoy the Easter Monday bank holiday sunshine.
The Government is to formally set down its extension at the start of next week after processing three weeks’ worth of figures.
Opinion polls show the public still backs the lockdown after the coronavirus claimed a record 938 deaths on Wednesday.
The WHO also agreed with the Government’s position yesterday, Dr Hans Kluge warned: ‘Now is not the time to relax measures.’
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance, will tomorrow meet to discuss how the current regulations on public freedoms have affected the infection and death rates.
Italy, which has recorded the highest number of deaths in the world, extended their lockdown (which started on March 9) until mid-May. Officials have often reminded us that we are two weeks behind the Italians.
Britain’s highest daily death toll on Wednesday (938) can be compared to Italy’s highest of 919 on March 28 (12 days ago), and Spain’s 950 fatalities on April 3.
‘We are out of lockdown, but sneeze and you’re shunned’: Briton living in Wuhan reveals how the joy of freedom after 76 days is tainted by China’s draconian security measures on the streets
As lockdown in Wuhan is finally lifted, a 32-year-old British expat who has been working in the city for several years sends this vivid despatch on the realities of freedom.
At midnight on Tuesday, I was woken up by whoops and cheers of ‘Come on Wuhan’ as my neighbours in this city of 11 million that spawned the
For a week, I’d been permitted to leave my compound on specific errands for up to two hours, but yesterday was the first day that I could come and go as I pleased.
The shops are reopening so I can buy razors and give myself a proper shave – re-using the same razor for almost three months has been a nightmare. I can finally get a haircut, too.
The 32-year-old British expat said: ‘Freedom after so long is welcome but nerve-wracking.’ Pictured: Workers wearing facemasks make a barbecue at a market in Wuhan
And some restaurants have resumed service.
The first thing I did was to go to my favourite noodle restaurant for its beef special that is so delicious I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner on the same day.
The local Starbucks is busy and a nearby bar has just had its first beer delivery for more than two months. Before the virus hit, life in China was all about convenience. If you wanted to get a toothbrush delivered at 4am, then you could.
But under lockdown we’d wait three days for a community delivery of specific goods: fresh vegetables, meat – mostly pork – rice and flour.
If you fancied something different, tough. I went out early yesterday morning and was surprised by the number of people and cars on the streets.
But it was rush hour and the crowds were an indication of a widespread return to work.
Roadblocks on highways leading in and out of the city have also been removed.
Life is being breathed back into the city, which is the capital of Hubei, a province that has suffered 67,803 cases of Covid-19 and 3,213 deaths, according to official figures.
Citizens can now travel between cities again and the local airport is back in business.
There were no fewer than 200 flights scheduled to depart Wuhan yesterday, carrying 10,000 passengers.
Tens of thousands more left on 100 high-speed trains. Day care centres, schools and colleges remain shut dependent on a ruling from Beijing on when they can reopen, but it surely won’t be long.
Yes, normality is returning but darker undertones persist. Freedom after so long is welcome but nerve-wracking.
Every few days, security guards come banging on my door – it can happen early in the morning or late at night – and three people in full protective clothing, visors and masks will come and have a look around my apartment and check me for signs of fever with a ‘thermometer gun’.
Another person records the procedure on a mobile phone.
Out on the streets it’s the same story – security guards armed with thermometer ‘guns’ to do spot checks maintain a highprofile presence, while trucks cruise the streets spraying disinfectant.
And many people are continuing to wear facemasks. There is still tension and wariness here.
Cough or sneeze on the street and people will cross the road to avoid you. Anyone who looks sick is treated like a leper.
To Western eyes, the mass surveillance and monitoring is draconian.
Each citizen is allocated a unique QR code, via the WeChat app, that serves as proof they are healthy.
The QR code is linked to an individual’s government ID card and includes details of a blood test and health check that show they are virus-free.
No one is allowed to leave a gated community, use public transport or visit shopping malls or buy food without having scanned their code.
Foreigners like me are not entitled to a QR code. I carry a letter from my doctor testifying to my virus-free status which I show along with my ID card.
Life is being breathed back into the city, which is the capital of Hubei, a province that has suffered 67,803 cases of Covid-19 and 3,213 deaths, according to official figures. Pictured: Passengers wait to enter the railway station after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan, China
This is the reality that has replaced lockdown now. To be checked and checked again.
Will it be enough to stop a second wave of infections? I hope so.
Wuhan is paying a high economic price for the lockdown.
The seafood market identified as the most likely source of this new strain of coronavirus outbreak remains sealed off by blue police tape, and is heavily patrolled by officers.
Walk down any street and you will see stores that have been abandoned because retailers can no longer afford to pay the rent.
Clothing shops, speciality restaurants, and even some banks are still closed with trash piling up outside.
No wonder many of the people who came to Wuhan from the countryside to find work left at the first opportunity yesterday. But people are returning.
The Wuhan quarantine was put in place during the Spring Festival, as the Chinese New Year celebration is known, a time when many people had left the city to visit family in their hometowns.
From my window I see young couples laden with luggage moving back to homes they have not lived in since January.
And this brings me to a problem that many here might rather stayed hidden.
Some of those who left Wuhan to celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Rat elsewhere, left their cats, dogs and other pets behind with enough water and food for a few days.
After all, they’d be back very soon…