Coronavirus: UK enters fourth week of lockdown ahead of review

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Ministers urged the public to stay at home over the Easter bank holiday weekend despite the warm weather

The UK is facing its fourth week in lockdown, with the government set to review by Thursday whether social distancing measures can be changed.

Ministers are required by law to assess whether the rules are working, based on expert advice, after three weeks of telling Britons to stay at home.

On Sunday, the UK’s total number of hospital deaths reached 10,612.

It comes as Boris Johnson thanked NHS staff after being discharged from hospital on Sunday.

The mother of a nurse who the prime minister specifically praised said she was “exceptionally proud” of her daughter.

Wales’ health minister said last week that the coronavirus lockdown would remain for “several more weeks at the very least”.

And Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned there was “no likelihood or prospect” of measures being lifted after the Easter weekend.

Mr Johnson had spent a week at St Thomas’ Hospital in London – including three nights in intensive care – where he was being treated for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

It is unclear whether the prime minister – who is now recuperating at Chequers, his country home in Buckinghamshire – will take part in the lockdown review.

In a video message to the nation recorded after he left hospital, 55-year-old Mr Johnson said it “could have gone either way” as he thanked NHS staff for saving his life.

He singled out two nurses – Jenny McGee from New Zealand and Luis Pitarma from Portugal – for caring for him at his bedside for 48 hours at the most critical time.

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Jenny McGee

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Ms McGee is back at St Thomas’ Hospital working the overnight shift after caring for Mr Johnson

Ms McGee’s mother, Caroline, told Television New Zealand: “It doesn’t matter what patient she’s looking after, this is what [Jenny] does and I just find it incredible that she, any nurses, can do this for 12 hours.

“Sit and watch a patient, and twiddle away with all the different knobs to keep their patients alive. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Ms McGee’s brother, Rob, told TVNZ: “We are all so proud of Jen, and what she’s been doing. Not just for Boris, but for every patient she looks after.”

She is back at St Thomas’ working the overnight shift, which points to why she is so special, her brother added.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is currently in charge of running the government, with aides reportedly expecting Mr Johnson to be out of action for as long as a month.

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Media captionIn a video message posted on Twitter, the PM thanked the NHS staff that cared for him

Asked how long it would be before Mr Johnson returned to work, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it would be a “clinical decision for his doctors to take with him”.

Speaking at the Downing Street briefing on Sunday, Mr Hancock insisted the government is “operating perfectly efficiently within the strategy that he set out.”

Exit strategy

Labour shadow cabinet minister Rachel Reeves said her party is calling on the government to publish its exit strategy for ending the lockdown.

Under the current rules, people are urged to stay at home and to only go out if they have a “reasonable excuse”, which includes exercise, shopping for basic necessities, healthcare and essential travel to or from work.

Ms Reeves suggested ways of easing restrictions could include rolling out mass testing, shielding the most vulnerable while others get back to normal life and lifting the restrictions temporarily but reintroducing them if the virus starts to spread again.

“Although it’s not the moment now to end the lockdown we need to think about where we are going to be in two, three, four weeks’ time and now start looking at that plan, being able to scrutinise that plan so we get it right,” she told BBC Breakfast.

“We need to have that public debate in the UK.”

Speaking ahead of the Easter Bank holiday weekend, Mr Raab said it was still “too early” to lift lockdown restrictions, insisting they would need to stay in place until evidence showed the UK had moved beyond the peak of the virus.

But ministers may also have to consider any economic fallout of the lockdown measures, with a report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) think-tank suggesting 25% of the UK economy could be lost by the summer due to the current controls in place.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma, when asked about the NIESR report, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show there would “no doubt” be economic repercussions following the lockdown measures.

According to BBC political correspondent Ben Wright “there is every expectation the social distancing measures and instruction for people to stay at home will be continued”.

“Ministers are having to weigh up their responsibility to fight the disease with protecting the economy. At some point the government will need to decide how – and when – to start easing restrictions and that may well cause tensions within the cabinet,” our correspondent said.

‘Sombre day’

On Sunday, 737 new coronavirus-related hospital deaths were recorded, taking the total number to 10,612.

Mr Hancock said it marked a “sombre day” for the nation, as it became the fifth country to surpass 10,000 deaths, joining the US, Spain, Italy and France.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the UK was likely to be “one of the worst, if not the worst affected country in Europe”.

The latest UK figures only include deaths recorded in hospitals, not those who died in care homes or in the community.

Sam Monaghan, the head of the UK’s largest charity care provider MHA, told BBC Breakfast that about 150 of its residents had died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus, as well as two staff members.

He said the provider – which runs 90 care homes and 43 retirement living sites – was “somewhat in the dark” about the exact number of deaths, because not everyone who died was tested, although they may have been showing symptoms.

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