Easing lockdown is ‘sensitive moment’ but transition needs to happen, Raab says

31 May 2020, 16:24

Man walks in Birmingham
Coronavirus – Sun May 17, 2020. Picture: PA

Groups of up to six people will be able to meet outside in England as long as they observe social distancing from Monday.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said it is a “sensitive moment” as Britain eases lockdown measures – but the country has to transition.

From Monday, groups of up to six people will be able to meet outside in England as long as they observe social distancing as part of efforts to fight coronavirus.

Mr Raab said: “This is a sensitive moment.

“We can’t just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition.”

Asked whether the lockdown will be tightened again if infection rates increase, Mr Raab told Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday: “We will target, if there is any uptick, and it could be in a locality, it could be in a particular setting, we will target very carefully measures that would apply to it so that we can take these steps but also keep control of the virus.”

Referring to a Government adviser, Mr Raab said: “As Jonathan Van-Tam … has said, with a precarious moment we can ease up, we can protect life, but also livelihoods, get life back to something resembling normal, but we must monitor it very carefully,

“If there is any up-tick in the number of cases, if we stop making the progress I described, we will have to take further measures again and target the virus wherever it may appear.”

Daily coronavirus testing capacity reached 200,000 on Saturday, including capacity for 40,000 antibody tests a day, meeting the target to reach the milestone by the end of May, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

The Department of Health said the 200,000 testing capacity was reached through diagnostic tests with capacity currently at more than 112,000, antibody testing which adds another 40,000 to the capacity and surveillance testing, which was launched to determine how the virus moved through the population.

Mr Hancock added: “Reaching our 200,000 capacity target is an important milestone on our journey to control the spread of the virus, save lives and gradually ease lockdown.”

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said he understands the public’s frustrations over the Dominic Cummings situation.

Mr Cummings, the PM’s key adviser, travelled from London to Durham with his wife and child during lockdown.

Asked about Mr Cummings, Mr Tugendhat said: “Of course I’m side-stepping it, the reason I’m sidestepping it is because I’m not in government. I’m not going to answer for the Government, I’m not going to defend the Government in that way.

“The Prime Minister has made his decision. You know, you can see the effect of it, you don’t need me to tell you, you can see how people have reacted to it and I’ve written to the people I’m privileged enough to represent to give them my views.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Asked what he told his constituents, Mr Tugendhat said: “I said I can understand the frustration but it is fundamentally up to the Prime Minister and it is going to be up to all of us to express our views.”

Mr Raab told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show the easing of the lockown was needed.

He said: “The reason we can take the steps is that we have met our five tests. We have made progress.

“Because we have made that progress, steadily, slowly, surely, week in, week out, we can very gradually, very carefully, take the steps that we are taking tomorrow.”

More than two million clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been shielding since March will finally be allowed to spend time with other people outdoors.

But the new freedoms, which will come into effect officially after a hot weekend which has enticed people to beaches and beauty spots, must be treated with caution, England’s deputy chief medical officer has insisted.

Professor Van-Tam said the Government and public had a “dual responsibility” to prevent a second wave of the virus, describing now as a “very dangerous moment”.

Addressing the public’s responsibility in stark terms while he took part in the daily Downing Street briefing on Saturday, he said: “Don’t tear the pants out of it, and don’t go further than the guidance actually says.”

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said ministers had to take “many other factors into consideration” in making decisions, and that Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advice was “independent of politics”.

From Monday in England, friends and family can meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six.

For those who have been shielding, a slight reprieve will come in the form of being able to go outside with members of their household while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.

Those in this category who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The easing of restrictions for those shielding follows criticism that this group had been left feeling “forgotten”.

Phil Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said people would want to hear the scientific evidence behind the decision, which he described as having “come out of the blue”.

The Observer reported a letter sent by 26 senior UK academics and health administrators to Downing Street complained about the impact of the key adviser’s actions in driving from London to Durham with his wife and child during the lockdown.

The group also warned about a failure to enact an effective test, trace and isolate system to pinpoint and then quarantine newly infected people.

As a result, they are now “very concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the general public” as the lockdown measures are relaxed, the newspaper reported.

A poll for the newspaper by Opinium found support for the Conservatives had fallen to leave them just four points ahead of Labour, and the paper said the Tory lead has fallen by eight points in the past week alone.

The poll also found 81% of voters thought Mr Cummings broke the lockdown rules.

By Press Association

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