The government has postponed a scheduled review of whether to continue with its coronavirus lockdown, amid signs that the measures could be slowing the spread of the virus.
Boris Johnson had originally said he would review the lockdown after it was in place for three weeks, but the exercise has now been pushed back until an unknown date after Easter.
Dominic Raab, who is deputising for the prime minister while he is in hospital, told a news conference on Tuesday: “In terms of the review, we’re not at that stage yet. We’ll take any decision when the time is right based on the facts and the scientific and medical advice.
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“Our number one and our overriding focus right now … is to remain absolutely focused on conveying the key message, which is that everyone needs to keep adhering to this guidance.”
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said it was “really important that we get to the point that we’re confident that we’re beyond the peak” before deciding how to scale back the lockdown measures.
Speaking at the same news conference, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said the number of new cases “could be moving in the right direction”, though it would not be clear “for a week or so” whether this was the case.
He told the regular Downing Street press conference: “It’s possible that we’re beginning to see the beginning of change in terms of the curve flattening a little bit. We won’t know that for sure for a week or so.
“There hasn’t been the accelerated take-off and again it’s possible that we’re beginning to see the start of a change where we might see numbers flattening off.
“It does begin to suggest that things might be moving in the right direction in terms of numbers and it’s important that we carry on with the measures that we have got in place in order to make sure that this does go in the right direction.”
Mr Raab added: “We’ve got a long bank holiday Easter weekend coming up, warm weather, we understand that people are making big sacrifices to follow this guidance. It is helping … the worst thing now would be to take our foot off the pedal and risk losing the gains that have been made.
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“It’s absolutely critical that people keep up that discipline, and the vast majority will, and we hope that everyone will follow that example because it’s the way to consolidate the progress we’ve made, and don’t lose the progress we’ve made.”
In his televised address to the country on 23 March, Mr Johnson said that the restrictions will remain “under constant review” and “we will look again in three weeks and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to”.
Under the regulations passed to enable the lockdown to be lawfully enforced, the health secretary “must review the need for restrictions and requirements imposed by these regulations at least once every 21 days, with the first review being carried out by 16 April 2020”.
This date is somewhat later than three weeks since Mr Johnson announced the measures, because the formal regulations were only officially passed into law on 26 March.