Boris Johnson’s government tried to damp expectations that the U.K.’s coronavirus lockdown will be significantly rolled back as top scientists warned the country’s infection rate has crept upward in recent days.
The prime minister will set out a plan for how the restrictions will be eased in a statement to the nation Sunday. A person familiar with the matter suggested rules may not change significantly until June, when small shops may be allowed to re-open. Details aren’t expected to be finalized until Sunday, as Johnson’s team consider the latest data.
Government officials spent much of Thursday trying to counter reports suggesting that there will be a significant lifting of the lockdown. Britons woke up Thursday to front-page headlines ranging from “Happy Monday” to “Hurrah! Lockdown Freedom Beckons.”
Ahead of a long holiday weekend that starts Friday and is predicted to be sunny, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that the restrictions will remain in place until the government says otherwise.
“Whatever is being reported in the newspapers is not a reliable guide to either the evidence that we’re getting or the policy decisions that will be taken,” he said. “The point at which we make even the smallest of changes to the current guidance will be a point of maximum risk.”
The reason for the administration’s caution was laid bare when National Statistician Ian Diamond backed a scientific assessment that the infection rate had risen at least a little in recent days, largely due to the continuing spread of the disease in care homes. He estimated that there are now as many as 20,000 new cases a day, far more than the official count of confirmed Covid-19 infections, which has ranged recently from about 4,000 to 6,000 a day.
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