Britain is extending its coronavirus lockdown measures by at least another three weeks, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said Thursday.
The government’s decision to prolong its shelter-in-place restrictions followed a meeting with scientists earlier in the day. Raab, who is deputizing for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said the rate of Covid-19 infections has not slowed enough to justify lifting the shutdown.
“Any change to our social-distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus,” Raab said at the government’s daily press conference. “That would threaten a second peak of the virus and substantially increase the number of deaths.”
Restrictions on public life have been in place in the U.K. since March 23. People have been told to stay at home, with the exception of limited shopping — for essential food and medical supplies — and exercise.
Raab outlined five things the government wanted to see before looking to adjust the lockdown measures currently in place. They are as follows:
- That the U.K.’s National Health Service is protected so it’s able to cope with the epidemic.
- Evidence of a sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths from the virus.
- Reliable data showing the rate of infection is decreasing to “manageable levels.”
- Testing and personal protective equipment in hand.
- Confidence that any adjustments to current measures risk a second peak of infections.
“Now is not the moment to give the coronavirus a second chance,” Raab said.
The number of people who have died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for the virus now stands at 13,729, an increase of 861 from the previous day. The country has reported over 100,000 infections.
The Office for Budget Responsibility warned earlier in the week that the shutdown could cause U.K. gross domestic product to shrink by 35% in the April to June period. Its projections were based on the assumption that the shutdown lasts for three months, followed by another three-month period during which restrictions are partially lifted.
Other European countries, such as Spain and Italy, have already begun gradually easing their lockdown measures. In Spain, construction and factory workers have started returning to work, while some regions in Italy have reopened bookstores and children’s clothes stores.
Germany has also announced that it will wind back some of its restrictions. Small shops will be allowed to reopen from April 20, while schools will open their doors on May 4, giving priority to students that have to take exams. Mass gatherings, however, will remain banned until August 31.