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Coronavirus: UK must find ‘new normal’ to ease lockdown – Raab

Coronavirus: UK must find ‘new normal’ to ease lockdown – Raab

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media captionDominic Raab: NHS staff ‘have best PPE we can get them’ The UK’s lockdown needs to be eased carefully, meaning social distancing will remain for “some time”, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said. He described the more than 20,000 deaths in the UK as “heartbreaking”, but said

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Media captionDominic Raab: NHS staff ‘have best PPE we can get them’

The UK’s lockdown needs to be eased carefully, meaning social distancing will remain for “some time”, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said.

He described the more than 20,000 deaths in the UK as “heartbreaking”, but said the toll could have been “much worse” without the strict measures.

However, Mr Raab did hint at some ways schools, sport and businesses could begin to return to “a new normal”.

It comes as a further 413 people have died with coronavirus in UK hospitals.

The latest daily death figure marks the lowest number that has been reported in April.

However, experts have previously warned against over-interpreting daily statistics, as they often reflect reporting delays, particularly over weekends – so do not relate directly to the number of deaths that occurred on a certain day.

The latest official figures bring the total number of deaths to 20,732. The government’s data does not include people who die in care homes, in their own homes, or elsewhere in the community.

The government has come under pressure from Labour to set out its “exit strategy” for lifting the lockdown.

Shadow cabinet office minister Rachel Reeves said ministers should treat people “like grown-ups” and should publish their plans for exiting the lockdown – to give businesses, schools and other organisations time to prepare.

But Mr Raab, who has been deputising for Boris Johnson while the PM recovers from coronavirus, said it would not be responsible to start announcing specific proposals until evidence was available to support them as this could risk “misleading” the public.

Rather than a complete lifting of all measures, he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that the country would end up “moving to a new normal”.

Mr Raab said when schools reopened, social distancing measures would need to be in place for pupils and staff.

“I think it’s inconceivable that they would come back without further measures, as are already being applied in those schools that are open for key workers,” he said.

But he would not be drawn on a suggestion that this would mean groups of pupils returning to lessons on different days or times to keep pupil numbers down.

Ministers still won’t be drawn on when or how easing of the lockdown measures will happen.

In his last day leading the government before Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes back the reins, Dominic Raab does go as far as talking about the “new normal” we will need to find for the many months it will take scientists to continue their work on a vaccine and treatments.

That new normal will have to include more testing to spot new cases. It will also require some social distancing measures in shops, schools and workplaces, and indeed any other location where people mix.

That raises some big questions, not least around transport. How do you keep commuters safely apart? And what should be done about travellers arriving to the UK who may be carrying coronavirus?

If you lift restrictions too much or too quickly, infections could soar. That would risk another peak and more lockdown measures – things none of us want.

Mr Raab suggested social distancing measures already being seen in food shops and other businesses that have remained operating could also be expanded to non-essential businesses if they were to reopen.

Asked whether there was any chance of people being able to play sport outside this summer, Mr Raab said this would be “difficult” due to the “level and scale of interaction”.

But he added: “I think the professional sport may be different because of the scale of testing that they would be able to introduce.”

On the possibility of testing people arriving at UK airports, Mr Raab said this measure might be introduced but he “can’t say it with any certainty yet”.

“The advice that we got – and I checked it with the scientists, with the chief medical officer – at the outset when we took up our social distancing measures, is that it wouldn’t make any difference from a public health point of view,” he said.

At that time, the number of people travelling was “plummeting” and “the virus was already at pace” within the UK, he added.

But he said that might need to be reviewed when the number of people with the virus in the UK had dropped significantly.

“Whether it’s a quarantine period, or testing, or other measures that might be taken, it’s possible – and I ask this question every week… and we will keep asking that question.”

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Image caption

Supermarkets have remained open with social distancing measures

At Sunday’s Downing Street briefing, NHS England’s Medical Director, Prof Stephen Powis, said efforts by the public to follow social distancing guidelines “have begun to pay off”, but stressed this would only continue if people continue to comply with the strict measures.

He said there was a “very definite” trend of a reduced number of people in hospitals – most markedly in London – and said there had been a decline in the number of critical care beds used for Covid-19 patients.

But Prof Powis insisted it was too early to ease off lockdown measures.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionRachel Reeves: “Businesses, schools and other organisations need time to plan if they are to reopen”

In his opening remarks at the government briefing, Environment Secretary George Eustice said food availability in UK supermarkets had returned to “normal levels” after a period of panic-buying at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Eustice said the international food chain is continuing to “work well”, but he said he expected there to be a need to recruit furloughed staff in the UK to harvest crops at the start of the summer.

“We estimate that probably only about a third of the migrant labour that would normally come to the UK is here, and was probably here before lockdown,” he said.

He also dismissed reports that travellers returning to the UK will have to be quarantined as “speculation”, saying “no decisions” have yet been taken on measures beyond lockdown.

Meanwhile, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned she could delay any lifting of the restrictions in Scotland if she thought the government at Westminster was moving too quickly.

“If… the UK government took decisions that I thought were premature in terms of coming out of the lockdown then clearly I would want to make sure that Scotland did what I judged was best to protect the population,” she told the programme.

But Ms Sturgeon added she would not take a different path “for the sake of it”.

How are other countries easing their lockdowns?

  • In Italy some businesses, such as bookshops, stationers and children’s clothes stores, have already reopened on a trial basis in some parts of the country. Schools to reopen in September
  • Germany reopened small shops, car dealerships and bicycle stores earlier this week. The only students back in school are those sitting leaving exams. Other pupils will also begin to return to classes after the lockdown ends
  • Spain allowed children outside on Sunday for the first time since 14 March. The lockdown itself is to be extended until 9 May, pending parliamentary approval
  • France is expected to unveil details of easing restrictions on Tuesday
  • Belgium said schools and businesses will reopen from mid-May
  • Denmark allowed students under the age of 12 to return to school earlier this month

In other developments:

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