Boris Johnson set to announce lockdown to last three more weeks

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said he will proceed with “maximum caution” in easing the lockdown, with the main restrictions expected to be in place for another three weeks.

The prime minister told the cabinet this morning that the government would not do anything that “risks a second peak” of coronavirus.

While some measures will be relaxed from Monday, such as allowing people to exercise more than once a day and sunbathing in parks, Downing Street said the changes would be “very limited”.

Mr Johnson said: “We are not going to do anything that risks a second peak. We will advance with maximum caution in order to protect the NHS and to save lives.

“We will be guided at every step by the science and the data. And we will closely track the impact of any easing of social distancing measures and will not hesitate to tighten the rules if required.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, will give a press conference this evening in which he will confirm that the lockdown has been formally extended.

Mr Johnson will give a speech to the nation on Sunday in which he will set out a “road map” for easing lockdown restrictions as long as the transmission rate of coronavirus remains low.

He is expected to say that people can take as much outdoor exercise as they like and to announce plans to restart open-air sporting activities such as tennis, golf and fishing.

Businesses will be issued with guidance so that they can prepare workplaces with appropriate social-distancing measures for people to come back to work.

However, the phased reopening of schools is not expected to begin until June and restrictions limiting people to contact with those in their households are likely to remain.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, attempted to play down expectations that the lockdown would be lifted imminently.

He told Sky News: “I think it would be wrong to get too carried away. I think we’ve got to understand that this is a pandemic and a virus that spreads so easily that we have to be very cautious as we look at how we come out of the current lockdown.”

He added: “The worst thing that could happen would be to have a very fast, quick and dangerous second peak to this virus.”

Public Health England is understood to have told staff to drop the “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” slogan from Saturday night. A new slogan urges people to “Stay safe, save lives”. In a sign of the changed approach, PHE said that it was “reviewing all communications materials in anticipation of moving to the next phase of the government campaign”.

Mr Johnson, speaking at his first prime minister’s questions since recovering from Covid-19, sought to justify his intention to announce a plan for easing restrictions on Sunday. He said: “The reason is very simple. We have to be sure that the data is going to support our ability to do this, but that data is coming in continuously over the next few days.

“We will want, if we possibly can, to get going with some of these measures on Monday, and I think it will be a good thing if people have an idea of what is coming the following day. That is why I think Sunday is the best time to do it, but of course the House will be fully informed and will have the full opportunity to debate and interrogate me or the government on that matter.”

Earlier Matt Hancock, the health secretary, suggested that outdoor cafés could open in the summer. He told Sky News: “There is strong evidence that outdoors the spread is much, much lower, so there may be workarounds that some businesses, for instance cafés, especially over the summer, may be able to put into place. We will want . . . to get going with some of these measures on Monday, and I think it will be a good thing if people have an idea of what is coming the following day.”

The three-week review will take place today but Mr Johnson will not set out any changes until Sunday. The prime minister’s spokesman said he wanted to “take a bit of time to ensure we get the measures and messaging right”.

Mr Johnson has promised to announce plans for socially distanced work, travel and schooling. He said that it would include extensive measures to provide workers with alternatives to “mass transit” in what could herald a “golden age of cycling”.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, said he must ease lockdown measures slowly if he wanted her to adopt the same approach. She said: “What we cannot have is any part of the UK or any area being forced to lift restrictions before the evidence says that it is safe to do so. I will continue to seek to be guided by the evidence and to apply best judgment to it.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, told BBC Good Morning Scotland that he thinks the restrictions should continue. “Lockdown needs to stay in place until we are sure the infection rate has gone down,” he said. “I will be very surprised if the government doesn’t reimpose the lockdown when it comes up for review later on and we will support them in that. This is not about lifting the lockdown now, it’s about planning for the future.”

Mr Johnson and Downing Street have repeatedly said they want the UK to move as a whole. In their first Commons clash, Sir Keir demanded more clarity over personal protective equipment before Sunday’s moves to start a return to work.

The government has delayed issuing draft guidance on PPE and face-coverings amid concerns it could worsen shortages in the NHS and care homes.

Sir Keir said “clearly there are ongoing problems” with PPE and that “it is obvious that this problem is going to get even more acute if and when the government ask people to return to work” as more people will need it.

Mr Johnson said that “it has been enraging to see the difficulties we’ve had in supplying PPE to those who need it” but the government was now “engaged in a massive plan to ramp up domestic supply”.

Sir Keir extracted a series of concessions from Mr Johnson after confirmation that Britain had the highest death toll from the virus in Europe.

Mr Johnson admitted that community testing had been abandoned in the middle of March because of a lack of capability.