Government expected to extend Covid-19 lockdown
The government is expected to extend its Covid-19 lockdown beyond next week but the announcement is likely to be put on hold until after the long Easter weekend, raising concerns that warm weather could tempt people to defy restrictions.
Ordering the closure of most shops and telling people to stay at home on 23 March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the measures would be reviewed after three weeks. Along with existing orders to shut pubs, restaurants and other leisure venues the actions were the most severe restrictions on British life in living memory.
With Johnson in intensive care suffering from the virus the government's Cobra crisis-response committee is meeting on Thursday to discuss the next steps in the lockdown. The Telegraph reported the government was working on plans to extend the lockdown until May but was reluctant to decide on the matter with the prime minister out of action.
After UK deaths from the virus rose to 938 on Wednesday reports suggested Dominic Raab, who is standing in for Johnson, would say on Thursday evening that restrictions will remain beyond the three-week review period.
But a cabinet member said the announcement was likely to wait until next week.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, told the BBC: "I don't think it's very likely these measures are going to be changed given they are just starting to have an effect. It's only prudent that on an ongoing basis we review them after three weeks."
The government is worried that any hint of relaxing the rules could tempt more people out over the four-day Easter weekend, when warm spring weather is predicted for much of the country. Figures showed retail footfall jumped the previous weekend when the warm weather began.
Instead of announcing an extension of restrictions on Thursday the government will rely on a public awareness campaign telling people to stay at home over the weekend, the Financial Times reported.
On Tuesday Raab avoided the question of whether the government would review the restrictions on Monday as planned. At that time the government was in disarray after Johnson was rushed to hospital on Sunday.
Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said on Wednesday he did not believe restrictions could be relaxed any time soon with deaths increasing daily.
“I think we are nowhere near lifting the lockdown," Khan said. “We think the peak, which is the worst part of the virus, is still probably a week and a half away."
The Guardian reported that at least five chief constables have asked the government to consider tougher restrictions to deter people from defying the rules over the Easter weekend. Options include stopping people driving long distances and legislation to enforce limits on exercise, the paper said.
The government has to weigh the need to curb the virus's spread with the damage caused by shutting large swathes of the economy. Economists expect output to contract at an unheard of rate in March.
The Labour opposition called on the government to publish its strategy for ending the lockdown. New Labour leader Keir Starmer said: "This is incredibly difficult on people and we need to know that plans are in place and what they are."