Coronavirus UK: Lockdown-easing plans could start this weekend


Boris Johnson is mulling a blueprint to loosen the coronavirus lockdown that could let family and friends mix in ‘bubbles’ – as well as reopening more public services and urging more people to return to work as early as this weekend.

Britons could be allowed to choose 10 people they can socialise with in an easing of draconian restrictions that have split families over the past month, despite the risk that the outbreak could return.

Ministers are also looking at getting public services such as rubbish tips up and running in a matter of days, although sources stressed that they had never been formally ordered to close and it is a decision for local authorities.

Garden centres and other shops where social distancing can be most enforced could follow shortly afterwards, while ministers are also drawing up plans to bolster rail services as more of the nation’s workforce is encouraged to return. The government’s key ‘stay at home’ message is expected to be overhauled to make clear people should do their jobs wherever possible.

Shoppers and passengers will likely be instructed to fashion a homemade mask while floor markings will enforce the two-metre separation rule, an insider told the Daily Telegraph. 

However, despite the frantic work going on in Whitehall, the timetable for easing the curbs that are strangling the economy is far from certain. The lockdown is not officially due to be reviewed until May 7, and scientists have been warning that even small changes could spark a deadly new peak and inflict even worse damage.

Downing Street has been playing down the prospect of schools opening before June – regarded by many as essential for a wide-scale reopening of UK plc. 

The outline of the plan is emerging after the PM returned to work yesterday and braced the public for a ‘new normal’ which will juggle the need to revive the economy with limiting the threat of the infection running rampant again. 

Mr Johnson offered a glimmer of hope by saying the exit strategy will be fleshed out ‘in the coming days’, although No10 sources were today playing down the prospect of any major announcements this week.

He also cautioned that the UK is at a moment of ‘maximum risk’ and the public must be ‘patient’. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said last night that there is still a ‘very long way to run’ in the crisis.  

In another desperate day in the fight against coronavirus: 

  • Britain’s coronavirus outbreak may have killed 53 per cent more people than daily Government statistics let on. Official data released today showed that deaths outside of hospitals pushed England’s death toll to 21,284 for April 17, a significant rise on the 13,917 figure previously given by the Department of Health; 
  • The nation has fallen silent to pay tribute to frontline workers who have died in the fight against coronavirus; 
  • Ministers have been holding urgent meetings with businesses that fear millions of workers will be too terrified to return to work even if the lockdown eases; 
  • Business groups have warned that government bailouts must stay in place long after the restrictions loosen to avoid thousands of firms going bust; 
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been confronted over PPE shortages by the son of a doctor who died from coronavirus; 
  • An adviser to the government has suggested pubs could be reopened, but only if they ration the number of drinks for customers; 

Boris Johnson (pictured leading the nation silence for frontline victims of coronavirus today) has promised to be ‘transparent’ about a blueprint to loosen the coronavirus lockdown after returning to work  

Backdated death data which includes suspected coronavirus cases and those who die outside of hospitals shows the toll of Britain's outbreak is significantly higher than Department of Health data lets on

Backdated death data which includes suspected coronavirus cases and those who die outside of hospitals shows the toll of Britain’s outbreak is significantly higher than Department of Health data lets on

JOHNSON IN ‘PROPERLY GOOD NICK’ AS HE STORMS BACK TO WORK 

Boris Johnson was on top form as he stormed back into Downing Street and chaired a ‘full’ cabinet coronavirus meeting in person to the wry smiles of ministers, sources said yesterday. 

The Prime Minister, 55, ditched Zoom despite appeals from advisers to avoid appearing in person and walked confidently into a packed cabinet room for his 9.15am meeting on Monday.

Social distancing rules were ‘pushed to the limit’, with so many ministers back at No10, reports The Times.  

But Mr Johnson, who returned to London from his two-week stint at Chequers on Sunday, was in ‘properly good nick’ and looked in better shape than he was before falling ill, according to the paper. 

There was no sign of his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, 31, who also fell ill with the virus, but she is believed to be returning to the flat at No11 soon. 

Some watching today’s war cabinet meeting told The Times the PM was ‘asking very detailed questions’ and ‘sounded like he was very much on top of it’.   

One adviser told the paper there was ‘much more energy’ at this meeting than ones before Mr Johnson was struck down with a fever.   

On his first full day back in Downing Street, the Prime Minister spoke optimistically about entering a ‘second phase’ of the battle against the coronavirus in which some of the crippling restrictions can be relaxed.

The PM said this phase would see the Government ‘continue to suppress the disease… but begin gradually to refine the economic and social restrictions, and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast UK economy’.

But he added: ‘We must also recognise the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus… because that would mean not only a new wave of death and disease but also an economic disaster.  

Mr Johnson was said to be in ‘properly good nick’ as he took the helm of government again yesterday after three weeks recovering from his own battle with the virus.

The 55-year-old premier delivered a speech to the country on the steps of Downing Street before chairing the morning ‘War Cabinet’.

Social distancing rules were ‘pushed to the limit’ as ministers and officials ditched video conferencing to physically attend the meeting at Number 10, according to The Times.    

During Mr Johnson’s absence, his de facto deputy Dominic Raab has remained tight-lipped over an exit strategy out lockdown.

But the PM hinted at a change to the lockdown yesterday morning as he addressed the nation. 

He said the UK was nearing the end of the first phase of the crisis and would be looking at ways to ‘refine’ the restrictions, amid mounting Tory alarm and warnings that a third will be wiped off GDP as millions of jobs are destroyed. 

Speculation has been swirling about what could change and how quickly – although ministers have apparently been advised that nothing major can be done until the UK has capacity to test everyone with symptoms and ‘track and trace’ who they have been in contact with.

That would require the estimated number of cases to be around 100,000 – a third of the current level – and the government to reach its target of carrying out 100,000 tests a day.  

Danny Altmann, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London, told the Commons Science and Technology Committee today that he would be ‘terribly worried’ about lifting lockdown measures with no or limited knowledge of the population’s immunity against coronavirus.

He said: ‘As an immunologist and knowing how desperately lethal this virus can be, I’d be very worried about any assumptions on those grounds – terribly worried.’

He added: ‘For a virus we’ve known about since January, it’s been a very steep learning curve.’ 

However, despite the concerns work is continuing at pace in Whitehall over options for loosening curbs. 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has been holding meetings with sectors of the economy, the CBI and trade unions to consider the next moves.  

Concerns have been raised by officials that many workers will be reluctant to return even when the government gives the green light, according to the Guardian.

Measures being discussed to ease the anxiety include the use of face masks and hand sanitiser on public transport, and revised operating procedures for building sites – many of which have already started operating again.

Of one of the most eye-catching plans to insist on masks, a Whitehall source told the Telegraph: ‘The plan for masks will be more than a recommendation. It is more of a compulsion for them to be worn in shops and on public transport. 

Is the UK’s REAL death toll 53% higher? ONS statistics show gap of more than 7,000 victims in official daily count 

Britain’s coronavirus outbreak may have killed 53 per cent more people than daily Government statistics let on, meaning thousands of victims are still uncounted. 

Weekly data released today showed that deaths outside of hospitals pushed England’s death toll to 21,284 for April 17, a significant rise on the 13,917 announced on that date by the Department of Health.

If the same increase – 52.9 per cent – were applied to the total death toll announced yesterday (21,092) it could mean the real number of victims is 32,249.

Office for National Statistics data, which gives a weekly picture of how many people have died outside of hospitals, recorded 3,096 care home deaths in the week from April 11 to April 17. This was almost triple the 1,043 announced the week before. 

Many of those who die outside of hospitals are not tested for the coronavirus while alive, meaning this data shows Britain’s outbreak is much larger than it appears. Some are never officially diagnosed and are only suspected to have had the illness.

So many people are being killed by the virus that that week, from April 11 to 17, was the deadliest since records began in 1993 and had a death toll (22,351) more than double the yearly average (10,497).

The World Health Organization has warned that half of COVID-19 deaths happening in Europe are taking place in nursing homes, and the UK’s count is rising fast.

British officials have faced heavy criticism for not offering enough support to the sector and chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance said they were warned ‘very early on’.

‘On social distancing, transport bosses will need to have two-metre markers in place so people can safely keep their distance.’  

Meaanwhile, weekly data released today showed that deaths outside of hospitals pushed England’s death toll to 21,284 for April 17, a significant rise on the 13,917 announced on that date by the Department of Health.

If the same increase – 52.9 per cent – were applied to the total death toll announced yesterday (21,092) it could mean the real number of victims is 32,249.

Office for National Statistics data, which gives a weekly picture of how many people have died outside of hospitals, recorded 3,096 care home deaths in the week from April 11 to April 17. This was almost triple the 1,043 announced the week before. 

Many of those who die outside of hospitals are not tested for the coronavirus while alive, meaning this data shows Britain’s outbreak is much larger than it appears. Some are never officially diagnosed and are only suspected to have had the illness.

So many people are being killed by the virus that that week, from April 11 to 17, was the deadliest since records began in 1993 and had a death toll (22,351) more than double the yearly average (10,497).

The World Health Organization has warned that half of COVID-19 deaths happening in Europe are taking place in nursing homes, and the UK’s count is rising fast.

British officials have faced heavy criticism for not offering enough support to the sector and chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance said they were warned ‘very early on’.

In his first public appearance since he was hospitalised with coronavirus, Mr Johnson said he had been ‘away from my desk for much longer than I would’ve liked’. 

He said: ‘Once again I want to thank you the people of this country for the sheer grit and guts you’ve shown and are continuing to show.

‘Every day I know that this virus brings new sadness and mourning to households across the land.’

Mr Johnson said: ‘It is still true that this is the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war and I in no way minimise the continuing problems we face.

‘And yet it is also true that we are making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer Covid patients in ICU and real signs now that we are passing through the peak.

‘And thanks to your forbearance, your good sense your altruism, your spirit of community, thanks to our collective national resolve, we are on the brink of achieving that first clear mission to prevent our National Health Service from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically we have seen elsewhere.

‘And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide.’ 

Mr Johnson, drawing on his own battle with Covid-19 which put him in intensive care, said: ‘If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger – which I can tell you from personal experience, it is – then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.

‘And so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity, this is the moment when we can press home our advantage, it is also the moment of maximum risk.

‘I know there will be many people looking at our apparent success, and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.’

Public transport routes have been operating a significantly cut-back timetable and officials are reportedly mulling how to expand services while maintaining social distancing. Pictured, commuters on the Tube today

Public transport routes have been operating a significantly cut-back timetable and officials are reportedly mulling how to expand services while maintaining social distancing. Pictured, commuters on the Tube today

In a statement in Downing Street, the PM assured the country he is back in charge after weeks recuperating from a serious scare with the killer disease

Coronavirus-linked syndrome has killed children, says Hancock 

A number of children with no underlying health conditions have died from a COVID-19-linked inflammatory syndrome, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed today.

Doctors were on Monday issued an alert about a sharp rise of infants in the UK and Italy being admitted to intensive care with the Kawasaki-like disease.

Officials have refused to say how many British children have been affected by the illness, but at least a dozen have fallen critically unwell.

One child needed to be put on a form of life support after their heart and lungs began to fail. The majority of the patients are understood to be under the age of five.

The illness appears to be a form of toxic shock syndrome, an immune overreaction which causes the body to attack its own organs.

Mr Hancock admitted on LBC Radio this morning ‘we have lost some children’ to a disease ‘we think is caused by the coronavirus.’

He said he understood ‘how hard and stressful it has been to give up, even temporarily, those ancient and basic freedoms’.

But he said the potential of a second spike in cases risked ‘economic disaster’. 

Mr Johnson added: ‘And so I know it is tough. And I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS.’

Mr Johnson’s words about the end of the first phase evoked Churchill’s famous 1942 speech after the Allies defeated Rommel’s forces at El Alamein. 

The wartime PM said: ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ 

It is understood Mr Johnson’s pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, who was with him at Chequers during his recuperation, has also moved back into Downing Street. She has also recovered from coronavirus. 

Mr Johnson has returned to work ‘full time’, taking back all of the responsibilities handed over to Dominic Raab, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘He’s back full time. In terms of responsibilities and duties, he will be doing all of those.’

Mr Johnson is expected to chair Cabinet on Thursday, but the plan for PMQs is not yet clear. 

The PM’s official spokesman said he would be speaking to Sir Keir Starmer soon to discuss the way forward – although the idea of a government of national unity has been dismissed.

‘He plans to speak with the leader of the Opposition this week and the leaders of all the Westminster parties next week, hopefully alongside the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser,’ the spokesman said. 

Allies have suggested the premier is ready to act earlier than May 7 to get UK plc up and running again, with hints the blanket ‘stay at home’ message from Whitehall will be ditched in favour of a more nuanced stance stressing the public should work where possible. 

Pandemic planning shambles: Hushed-up government drill on killer flu outbreak ‘FAILED to consider PPE, ventilator and testing shortages and found UK woefully unprepared for any new disease’

by Jack Elsom for MailOnline 

A government pandemic response drill four years ago found that the UK was woefully under-prepared to fight a future outbreak, it was revealed last night.

The shortcomings exposed by Exercise Cygnus in 2016 included a lack of capacity in hospital and social care settings which risked becoming overwhelmed.

Checking Britain had a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment and ventilators, as well as assessing testing capacity, were reportedly both glaring omissions from the three-day simulation.

It once again asks hard questions as to why the country’s pandemic defences were not shored up ahead of the current coronavirus crisis despite repeated warnings.

Calls for the findings of Exercise Cygnus to be de-classified and made public have been deflected by the government in recent days.

But the bombshell report, which has been seen by the Sun, now puts pressure on ministers to explain why the advice was not acted upon.

An NHS worker with a fluid-resistant surgical mask

A government pandemic response drill four years ago found that the UK was woefully under-prepared to fight a future outbreak, it was revealed last night (medical staff put on PPE at a testing centre) 

Whitehall departments, the NHS, health bodies and councils were all included in the nationwide mock test of how the UK would cope with a deadly disease.

A subsequent report made 22 recommendations and concluded ‘the UK’s capability to respond to a worst case pandemic influenza should be critically reviewed,’ according to the newspaper.

A source last night told MailOnline the government has ‘been extremely proactive in implementing lessons learnt around pandemic preparedness, including from Exercise Cygnus’. 

One of the holes uncovered by the exercise was an incapacity to deal with an influx in demand for hospital beds as cases soared.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis, the government was accused of being caught flat-footed as it raced to erect brand new Nightingale hospitals to expand capacity.  

Concerns were also raised on creaking social care capacity, the effects of closing schools and the impact on prisons, the Sun reports.

It also claims dispatching PPE to frontline staff was mentioned only once in the 57-page document. 

Members of the British Army wearing PPE work at a testing centre in Ebbsfleet, south London

Members of the British Army wearing PPE work at a testing centre in Ebbsfleet, south London

NHS workers in PPE take a patient with an unknown condition to an ambulance at Queens Hospital in London

NHS workers in PPE take a patient with an unknown condition to an ambulance at Queens Hospital in London

Matt Hancock has been asked to release the findings of Exercise Cygnus (pictured speaking at the Downing Street press briefing yesterday)

Matt Hancock has been asked to release the findings of Exercise Cygnus (pictured speaking at the Downing Street press briefing yesterday)

CHILDREN SICKENED WITH ‘TOXIC SHOCK LINKED TO COVID-19’ 

Health chiefs have vowed to investigate reports of a coronavirus-related inflammatory syndrome in children as a ‘matter of urgency’.

Doctors were issued an alert about a sharp rise of infants being admitted to intensive care with a Kawasaki-like disease.

Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said it is ‘entirely plausible’ this spike is linked to the Covid-19 outbreak.

NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis has instructed his experts to drill down into the alarming numbers.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was ‘very worried’ by the flurry of symptoms displayed by children, who are among the least vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus.

In an alert sent to GPs, health chiefs at an NHS board in London said: ‘There is growing concern that a [COVID-19] related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK.

‘Over the last three weeks there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multi-system inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK.’ 

Children are not thought to be badly affected by COVID-19. The children being seen with this syndrome often suffer from stomach pain, cardiac inflammation and ‘gastrointestinal symptoms’ – which could include vomiting and diarrhoea.

Prof Whitty added: ‘This is a very rare situation but I think it is entirely plausible that this is caused by this virus, at least in some cases.’

Doctors have compared the mysterious complication to toxic shock syndrome and Kawasaki disease which, combined, cause harmful internal swelling, fever and breathing problems – all hallmark signs of COVID-19.  

It is not clear how many children have had the inflammatory syndrome, nor whether any have died with it.  

NHS and social care staff have been crying out for PPE in recent weeks amid alarming scenes from hospitals of medics forced to fashion makeshift gowns from curtains and bin bags.

Exercise Cygnus, which forecast a H2N2 influenza outbreak similar to Covid-19, took place under Theresa May’s premiership while Jeremy Hunt was Health Secretary.

A government spokesperson said: ‘As the public would expect we regularly test our pandemic plans and these exercises have enabled us to rapidly respond to this unprecedented global pandemic.

‘What we learned from these exercises helped us prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and, now, start to pass through the peak of the virus. 

‘There is still more to do but our response will continue to be guided at all times by the best scientific advice.’

The government could face legal action if it does not publish the findings of Exercise Cygnus, lawyers have said.

NHS doctor and campaigner Dr Moosa Qureshi is demanding the results, which have not been made public, of the drill.

Law firm Leigh Day, which represents Dr Qureshi, said an urgent pre-action letter has been sent to Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking for a response by 4pm on Monday.

He will seek a judicial review if Mr Hancock does not disclose the Cygnus findings or give ‘adequate reasons’ for the refusal, his lawyers said.

Dr Qureshi said: ‘There is no persuasive argument for secrecy when managing a healthcare crisis.

‘Successful science and healthcare provision depend on transparency, peer review, collaboration and engagement with the public.

‘I believe that if the Government had followed the Cygnus exercise by engaging transparently with health and social care partners, with industry and with the public, then many of the deaths of my heroic healthcare colleagues and the wider public during the Covid-19 pandemic could have been avoided.

‘For this reason, I strongly believe that we need to see transparency throughout the entire process of preparation and delivery of care during this pandemic, including the social care sector and NHS Nightingale hospitals.’ 

 



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