The UK government is preparing to formally extend the initial three-week strict social distancing measures imposed last month to try and curb the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic as the country’s death toll from Covid-19 crosses 12,868.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who is standing in for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recuperates after testing positive for the virus, will chair a crucial meeting of the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (Cobra) on Thursday during which the Cabinet will finalise the plans for an ectension.
Ministers have already indicated in their daily Downing Street briefings this week that an extension to the lockdown measures, likely to be for another three weeks, is inevitable.
“We can see that we’re reaching a peak, that is good news, but we can see that the numbers are not yet coming down, therefore we can’t make a change,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock in reference to the Cabinet’s extension plans.
“If we just released all the measures now then this virus would run rampant,” he said.
Hancock will join other Cabinet members and the first ministers of the devolved governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on Thursday as they discuss the further lockdown measures.
Scotland and Wales have already indicated that their social distancing norms will not be lifted yet and Northern Ireland has extended its lockdown until May 9.
The Opposition Labour Party has offered its support to an extension but is pressing the government on tabling an exit strategy from the severe policies and lay out a plan for how the country would eventually come out of it.
In a letter to Raab, Labour Leader Keir Starmer stressed that while millions of Britons are following the rules, they need some clear idea on what to expect in the future.
He has urged the government to publish its lockdown strategy because “transparency is the best way” to maintain public trust.
“If we can get a consensus that this is the right strategy going forward, I think that will give trust to the public as well,” he said.
The UK’s lockdown, which involves strict stay at home measures with movement allowed for limited urgent purposes only if “absolutely necessary” and for one form of daily exercise, came into force on March 23 in a televised address by Johnson.
Under the emergency measures passed for it, ministers are required by law to assess whether the rules are working, based on expert scientific advice, every three weeks.
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