Coronavirus: Michael Gove warns of longer lockdown as death toll rises
Warning comes as experts say it could be up to six months before life returns to ‘normal’
Michael Gove has warned the British public to prepare for a “significant period” of lockdown, in a signal that the government could extend restrictions beyond the three weeks initially announced by Boris Johnson.
Speaking on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Gove said: “I can’t make an accurate prediction but everyone does have to prepare for a significant period when these measures are still in place.”
The warning came as England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jenny Harries, said that it could be six months before life in the UK returns to “normal”.
Appearing at the daily coronavirus briefing, Harries said the government would review the lockdown measures for the first time in three weeks.
Harries said: “We must not then suddenly revert to our normal way of living. That would be quite dangerous. If we stop then all of our efforts will be wasted and we could potentially see a second peak.
“So over time, probably over the next six months, we will have a three-week review. We will see where we are going. We need to keep that lid on - and then gradually we will be able to hopefully adjust some of the social distancing measures and gradually get us all back to normal.”
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The government’s leading epidemiology adviser sounded a similarly cautious note, warning that the entire population may need to stay at home for up to three months.
Neil Ferguson said that even when the lockdown is lifted, there would probably still be months of social distancing, adding: “We're going to have to keep these measures in place, in my view, for a significant period of time - probably until the end of May, maybe even early June. May is optimistic.”
The warnings came as Boris Johnson sends a letter to every British household, warning that “things will get worse before they get better” and that he will “not hesitate to go further” if necessary.
Last Monday, the prime minister announced nationwide lockdown restrictions, ruling that people may only leave home to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items and to fulfil any medical or care needs.
The Sunday Times quotes cabinet sources as saying that two criteria would have to be met before the prime minister would lift the lockdown; the number of new cases must be stable or falling, while the critical care capacity of NHS hospitals must not be exceeded.
The latest UK figures offer a “glimmer of hope,” reports the Mail on Sunday, as infection rates dropped for the second day in a row. However, with the death toll rising by 209 to 1,228 and infections up by 2,483 to 19,522, the immediate picture remains grim.
Senior government figures have forecast that coronavirus could peak in April with approximately 5,700 deaths. After this, they suggested, the lockdown measures could be steadily loosened.