The coronavirus spike in Germany shows why the UK must not lift lockdown measures too early, Dominic Raab insisted tonight.
The Foreign Secretary pointed to the experience on the continent as he warned that easing the draconian restrictions before the time is right risks ‘undoing all the hard work’.
The stark message came at the daily press briefing amid mounting pressure for the government to set out an exit strategy from the curbs destroying millions of jobs.
Germany has been widely praised for its response to the disease, with high levels of testing and relatively low death numbers.
But since Angela Merkel announced a relaxation of lockdown measures the reproduction rate of the virus – known as R – has risen towards one again. That means it is at risk of resuming rapid growth.
Mr Raab said tonight: ‘A second spike would be harmful to public health and it would result in many more deaths from Covid-19, that in itself would lead to a second lockdown inflicting further prolonged economic pain…
‘It is not a theoretical risk and it is not something that is confined to the UK…
‘Chancellor Merkel has said publicly and she has made clear that they might need a second lockdown in Germany if the infection rate continues to rise.’
At the daily No10 briefing this evening, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab pointed to the experience on the continent as he warned that easing the draconian restrictions before the time is right risks ‘undoing all the hard work’
Since Angela Merkel (pictured in Berlin today) announced a relaxation of lockdown measures the reproduction rate of the virus – known as R – has risen again
He added: ‘This is a very real risk and it is vital we proceed carefully guided by the scientific advice. We mustn’t gamble away the sacrifices and the progress that we have made.’
Mr Raab tried to reassure the public that there is ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. ‘We are working on all the potential options for the second phase… but we need to be patient and we need to be careful.’
The 16 German states have begun to reopen shops, schools and churches over the past week, despite deep divisions over how quickly to act.
Despite Downing Street insisting that curbs remain in place until at least May 7 there are signs that the rules are already being relaxed in the face of growing Tory alarm over the economic impact.
New guidance is being issued to councils on refuse and recycling sites, while Michael Gove has hinted that garden centres and other shops where social distancing can be most enforced could follow soon.
Some construction sites, DIY stores and fast food chains have also stepped up their operations over recent days.
Speculation was fuelled last night as the wording of the government’s ‘five tests’ for easing restrictions was subtly changed.
The fifth test now says there must be no second peak ‘that overwhelms the NHS’.
That is potentially more achievable than avoiding a second peak altogether – although Downing Street insists there has been no adjustment.
Boris Johnson is expected to speak about the lockdown measures later this week.
The problem faced by ministers when they do decide the shackles can be loosened have been underlined by signs that the public support for the curbs is entrenched.
Research by YouGov found 28 per cent want the lockdown to stay in full even if the conditions set for starting to return to normal life are met.
Some 22 per cent would like to see more shops open, 11 per cent schools up and running, and a tenth say regions should be released at different times.
Just 4 per cent want the lockdown lifted entirely, according to the survey for the Times.
Research by YouGov for the Times found 28 per cent want the lockdown to stay in full even if the conditions set for starting to return to normal life are met
Standing in for Boris Johnson at PMQs earlier, Mr Raab was berated by Labour’s Keir Starmer for refusing to trust the public with an exit strategy
Sir Keir said the British people ‘need to know what is going to happen in the next phase’, pointing out that both Scotland and Wales had gone further than the Westminster government.
But Mr Raab said scientific advisers had told ministers earlier this month that the restrictions should not be lifted, and they were not due to update the guidance for ‘another week or so’.
Facing off against Mr Raab for the second week running after Mr Johnson’s fiancee gave birth, Sir Keir said England could fall behind other countries including Scotland and Wales if the UK Government does not publish an exit strategy soon.
He said: ‘France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland and Wales have all published exit plans of one sort or another. ..
‘If you look at those plans, as he’s done and I’ve done, it’s clear that there are common issues such as schools reopening, business sectors reopening.’
He added: ‘Delay risks not only falling behind other countries, but also the successful four-nation approach so far.’
Sir Keir said he was not calling for an immediate end to lockdown or even a timeframe, but added that the government needs to be ‘open with people’.
‘The public need to know what’s going to happen in the next phase,’ the Labour leader said.
But Mr Raab responded that the government ‘can’t give it until we have the evidence’.
‘He’s asked for a time frame and a date, we can’t give it until we have the Sage evidence,’ he said.
‘If he thinks there’s things that we could be announcing, whether it’s workplace which he referred to, schools, or otherwise, feel free to propose those things.’