Ministers were warned the ‘stay at home’ messaging might have been too successful today amid fears ‘coronaphobia’ could stop the country getting back up and running.
Boris Johnson revealed last night that the government will unveil a ‘road map’ next week for how the country can return to a semblance of normal life while keeping the deadly disease under control.
Frantic work is under way in Whitehall on how businesses can resume activities, with every day on hold estimated to wipe around £2billion from GDP. Staff working every other week, wearing PPE in canteens, and face coverings on public transport are all being mooted to help reduce the risks.
But polling has suggested 61 per cent of Britons would be nervous about going out to bars and restaurants even if the draconian restrictions are loosened. The UK population appears to be among the most nervous in the world, with more than a quarter saying lockdown should not be eased even if the PM’s ‘five tests’ are met.
There are reports that some people who have returned to work have been getting abuse from neighbours who believe they are threatening their safety.
Ipsos MORI polling has suggested 61 per cent of Britons would be nervous about going out to bars and restaurants even if the draconian restrictions are loosened
In a round of interviews today, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick admitted that getting UK plc back on its feet would require the public accepting a more ‘nuanced’ message
Research by YouGov for the Times found 28 per cent want the lockdown to stay in full even if the conditions set for starting to return to normal life are met
Matt Hancock’s testing target ‘has been HIT’: Ministers confident 100,000-a-day goal has been reached after last-minute spike
Ministers voiced confidence today that the 100,000 a day target for coronavirus tests has been met after a last-minute surge.
Government sources said they believe the goal set by Matt Hancock will be achieved when the figures are officially announced this afternoon – although they stressed it could not be ‘taken for granted’.
Health Select Committee chair Jeremy Hunt, one of the foremost critics of the testing regime, said Mr Hancock deserved credit for the ‘enormous achievement’ and urged fast progress towards South Korea-style mass screening.
However, a Nobel Prize-winning biologist has branded the Government’s target a ‘PR stunt’, saying the number had only been chosen because it ‘sounds good’.
Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of biomedical research centre the Francis Crick Institute, said on Question Time that the increase was welcome but the figure itself ‘makes absolutely no sense’.
Figures published last night showed 81,611 tests were conducted on Wednesday, a major jump from 52,429 on Tuesday and 43,453 on Monday.
The significant jump gave renewed hope that Mr Hancock could possibly scrape past his self-imposed target, announced on April 2 when figures were running at around 10,000 a day.
Statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, a government adviser, said today that the ‘social distancing’ communications strategy.
‘It’s much harder to frighten to people to stay at home than it is to reassure them they can go out again,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘Maybe our whole campaign has been, if anything, slightly too successful.’
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick admitted that getting UK plc back on its feet would require the public accepting a more ‘nuanced’ message.
He said that sectors such as housing and construction ‘on the whole’ could go back to work now as the majority was done outside and could be carried out in accordance with social distancing.
‘I think we are, at the moment, where the country can take a message that is slightly nuanced and saying ‘this is what you need to do today, but this is what the future looks like so that you and your family can start to prepare’.’
In response to Mr Johnson’s optimism that the UK economy would ‘bounce back’ following the pandemic, Mr Jenrick said he too was confident.
‘The fundamentals of the British economy remain sound,’ he said.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the government will need to ‘take people with us’.
‘As we move to open up things again, we will be careful and cautious, we will have to take people with us,’ he said.
‘Our efforts over the last week have been directed at working with our trade unions, our local authorities and other stakeholders because you can open up anything you like, but if people don’t think it’s safe to take up what is now available to them, they won’t come.’
According to Ipsos MORI research conducted earlier this week, 61 per cent of the public would be uncomfortable about going out to bars and restaurants or using public transport if lockdown was eased next month.
Just 22 per cent of those aged 55 to 75 would be happy going out to pubs or to eat.
A third would be concerned about going out to meet friends or family.
Just over half – 51 per cent – would be at ease with shopping in a supermarket while 49 per cent would be comfortable in other shops.
Some 48 per cent voiced anxiety about sending their children back to school, and a third would be nervous going back to school.
Two-thirds – 67 per cent – would be uncomfortable going to large public gatherings, such as sports or concerts.
Heading his first Downing Street briefing since falling ill last night, the Prime Minister said the UK is now on the ‘downward slope’ and praised Britons for having avoided an ‘uncontrollable and catastrophic’ epidemic.
But Mr Johnson dashed hopes of an imminent loosening, after making clear that a new flare-up of the deadly disease would be worse than the current crippling impact on the economy.
Boris Johnson (pictured clapping for the NHS last night) has said the UK is now on the ‘downward slope’ and praised Britons for having avoided an ‘uncontrollable and catastrophic’ epidemic
He claimed that efforts to bolster the NHS had avoided a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ of 500,000 deaths if no action to combat the pandemic had been taken, likening it to digging a tunnel under an alpine mountain.
But in the strongest hint yet that restrictions will run into June and beyond, he added: ‘It is vital that we do not now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain.’
The premier said a ‘huge amount of work’ was going into an ‘exit strategy’ with the first draft to be published next week. While it will offer a ‘road map, a menu of options’ for how the curbs could be eased in future, he cautioned that it would not give any timings as they would depend on the science.
He gave a strong hint that it will involve advising people to wear face coverings in some circumstances, saying they ‘will be useful’ as the situation evolves.
Mr Johnson also said he was ‘not going to pretend’ the government had not made any mistakes in the handling of the crisis, pointing to PPE supplies. He admitted they were learning lessons every day.
The tough message came as Mr Johnson put the ‘R’ number – the reproduction rate of the virus – at the heart of the battle. He insisted nothing can be done that lets it rise above one, which would mean the outbreak was growing again.
Scientific adviser Patrick Vallance told the briefing that he believed the R was currently between 0.6 and 0.9 across the country.