Dominic Raab today blasted ‘irresponsible’ critics for demanding the UK government set out how it will ease the nation’s coronavirus lockdown.
Tory donors, Cabinet ministers and Sir Keir Starmer have all told Boris Johnson he must publish his strategy for loosening restrictions as the Prime Minister prepares to return to work tomorrow.
But Mr Raab slapped down those calls this morning as he said Britain is still at a ‘delicate and dangerous’ stage of the outbreak and the focus must remain on slowing the spread of the disease and reducing the number of deaths.
The Foreign Secretary did insist ministers are carrying out their ‘homework’ on how to lift stay-at-home rules but he stressed ‘frankly it is not responsible to start speculating about the individual measures’.
Mr Johnson has been recuperating at Chequers since he was released from hospital on April 12 after his own intensive care battle with coronavirus but he has told allies he is now ‘raring to go’.
The PM will formally return to the frontline amid growing hostility over the government’s repeated refusal to publicly discuss how restrictions will be lifted.
Numerous Tory donors have today broken cover to tell the PM that the draconian measures must be loosened as soon as possible due to growing fears of lasting damage to the UK economy.
Cabinet ministers are briefing their own disquiet with some concerned that the British public have now had enough of the restrictions and cannot ‘take much more of this’.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir, the Labour leader, has warned the premier the UK risks ‘falling behind the rest of the world’ in terms of setting out how life will be returned to something resembling normal.
Economists have also warned that a failure to get out of lockdown soon could result in Britain being the Western nation hardest hit by the virus.
The series of major interventions came after the UK’s coronavirus death toll hit 20,000.
Dominic Raab today slapped down critics who have demanded the UK government set out is lockdown exit strategy
Boris Johnson, pictured in Downing Street on March 25, is expected to return to work in Number 10 tomorrow
The grim 20,000 milestone – which also saw the number of people testing positive for coronavirus rise by 4,913 to 148,377 – came as the coronavirus lockdown continued into its fifth weekend and the Government faced calls for greater transparency over the scientific advice given to ministers on the outbreak
Keir Starmer demands Boris Johnson set out lockdown exit plan
Sir Keir Starmer has warned Boris Johnson the UK risks ‘falling behind the rest of the world’ in its coronavirus response if ministers continue to refuse to tell the public what the government’s lockdown exit strategy is.
The Labour leader has written to the Prime Minister to urge him to hold an ‘adult conversation’ with Britons to spell out what they are likely to face next.
The move by Sir Keir comes after numerous UK ministers repeatedly refused to discuss how lockdown measures could be eased despite the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments publishing their own plans.
In his letter to the premier, Sir Keir said it is essential ministers learn the lessons from the mistakes made dealing with the crisis.
‘Simply acting as if this discussion is not happening is not credible, especially when other governments and our own devolved administrations have been able to communicate so much more,’ he wrote.
He added: ‘The UK government is behind the curve on this. I fear we are falling behind the rest of the world. That is why we need to see a significant step-change in the government’s response to this pandemic.
‘Decisions need to be taken quicker and communication with the public needs to be clearer.’
All passengers returning to UK face two week quarantine
Everyone entering the UK will be forced to quarantine for a fortnight under plans being drawn up by the government.
The move follows growing pressure for tighter border controls during the coronavirus crisis and would include UK citizens returning from abroad.
Airport bosses have complained that the failure to limit arrivals and check passengers has made a mockery of the lockdown.
The plan – similar to one operated by Singapore – is believed to have been agreed during a meeting of ministers and officials on Wednesday.
Officials were told to look at ways to enforce compliance, including large fines or even criminal prosecution, under powers introduced by the Coronavirus Act.
Michael Spencer, a big donor to Mr Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign in 2019, told the Sunday Times that measures needed to be eased ‘as soon as we reasonably can’ to help the economy ‘start moving forward’.
‘We should really begin to offer a narrative of how and when it’s going to stop,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Steve Morgan, the former boss of the house builder Redrow who gave a large donation to the Conservative Party election campaign said the risk is that the ‘medicine’ of the lockdown ends up being ‘more harmful than the cure’.
He said easing the lockdown was not ‘about profit’ but ‘about saving the country from going bankrupt’.
A trio of Cabinet ministers have also expressed concern with one telling the Sunday Times they do not believe the ‘public will be able to take much more of this’.
A second senior figure said everyone in the Cabinet wants the restrictions ‘eased as soon as possible’ – at least partially because the public appear to be ‘giving up on it’ and it is not preferable to enforce the measures ‘through compulsion rather than consent’.
A third minister said waiting too long to ease measures risked unintended consequences like more preventable deaths unrelated to coronavirus.
They said waiting for the number of hospital deaths to fall to close to zero is not the ‘answer’.
There is also growing pressure among Tory MPs for the government to act.
Andrea Leadsom, the Tory former business secretary, said firms will ‘need notice’ before restrictions are lifted so that supply chains can get back up and running.
Veteran Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh warned of the potential for long term economic damage if lockdown continues for too long and said it is ‘essential’ schools soon return to people can go back to work.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir has written to Mr Johnson to urge him to hold an ‘adult conversation’ with Britons to spell out what they are likely to face next.
The government is refusing to talk about easing lockdown but the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments have both already set out their own roadmaps for getting back to normal.
Sir Keir suggested it was therefore untenable for Downing Street not to address the issue.
He said in his letter: ‘The UK government is behind the curve on this. I fear we are falling behind the rest of the world. That is why we need to see a significant step-change in the government’s response to this pandemic.
‘Decisions need to be taken quicker and communication with the public needs to be clearer.’
Ministers order 50 million coronavirus immunity tests
Ministers have ordered production of up to 50 million new immunity tests as part of what experts hope will be a ‘game-changing’ development in the battle against Covid-19.
A breakthrough by a team of top British scientists means that, by June, people could be able to reliably test whether they have developed immunity to the virus – and then be allowed to return to work and socialise as normal.
The dramatic news comes as Boris Johnson prepares to go back to work in Downing Street tomorrow, having told aides that he is ‘raring to go’ in the fight against the virus which nearly killed him.
The pandemic reached another grim milestone yesterday as the UK death toll passed 20,000 – up by 813 in 24 hours.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, last month said keeping deaths below 20,000 would be a ‘good outcome’.
The new immunity tests, expected to cost £10, have been devised by scientists at Oxford, working for the Government-backed Rapid Testing Consortium.
Users of the test provide a pinprick of blood for analysis. Then, like a pregnancy test, if two lines appear after a 20-minute wait, people know that they have the antibodies. One line means they are either vulnerable to coronavirus infection or the test has failed.
Under plans being drawn up, the user would take a picture of the positive result and send it to a central unit which would enter their details into a database.
The consortium believes it could produce up to 1 million of the ‘lateral flow’ tests a week by the summer, adding up to 50 million by next year.
It is not only politicians who are demanding to know a way out, with Dr Gerard Lyons, an economic adviser to Mr Johnson when he was Mayor of London, and another economist Paul Ormerod, writing in the Sunday Telegraph that a failure to ‘unlock soon’ could mean the UK being ‘the Western economy hit hardest by the virus’.
Mr Johnson is expected to be given the all clear to formally return to work tomorrow and he will re-enter the crisis with a determination to ‘tighten his grip’ on the government’s approach.
The Prime Minister told aides during a three-hour Covid-19 strategy session last week that doctors had given him permission to return.
‘I’m raring to go,’ he insisted.
Mr Johnson, who was discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital in Central London two weeks ago, has spent the past week easing back into something closer to a normal workload, making calls to ministers, working on official papers and holding a series of – sometimes erratic – meetings on Zoom.
A source said: ‘Boris is tightening his grip. You are going to see much greater clarity, energy and purpose now.’
The PM held a three-hour Chequers summit with senior figures including Dominic Raab and Rishi Sunak as he was briefed on cross-government efforts to tackle the disease.
The Chancellor presented an economic blueprint based on the ‘best practice’ that has been shown to work in countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Germany.
It is understood the Chancellor briefed Mr Johnson on a four-point plan to reopen non-essential shops, change working patterns and then open schools – as well as making ‘hygienic measures’ a permanent fixture in Britain’s workplaces.
Mr Sunak highlighted plans in Austria where shops over 400 sq m (4,300 sq ft) and hardware stores and garden centres have already reopened, while in Germany hairdressers are open as long as staff and clients wear protective clothing.
Sir Keir Starmer has written to Mr Johnson to warn the UK risks ‘falling behind the rest of the world’ on easing lockdown
And he championed the Czech Republic’s five-stage plan to lift all domestic restrictions by June 8, with particular focus on the country’s plans to start by opening farmers’ markets and car dealerships.
Reports last week said Mr Johnson’s serious illness had turned him from a ‘hawk’ who supported an early exit from the lockdown into a ‘dove’ who regarded the protection of the NHS as the overwhelming priority.
But that interpretation is disputed by one minister, a close ally of the Prime Minister, who said: ‘I don’t think that is right. He is going to start showing some leg on leaving lockdown.’
But Mr Johnson is also believed to have given a clear direction that the health of the nation must take precedence over all other considerations as he quoted the Roman orator Cicero.
He told allies ‘salus populi suprema lex esto’ which roughly translates as the health, or welfare, of the people should be the supreme law, according to the Sunday Telegraph.