The Housing Secretary hinted a lockdown exit plan was being concocted – as the Treasury aims to end the economic halt by June. Mr Jenrick stated there was currently “excess capacity” in intensive care units “across the country”, which had to continue in place to avoid overwhelming the NHS.
He said: “If we can do that then we can look in the weeks to come to begin to very carefully… lift some of those measures.
“But an exit strategy that’s sustainable will also have to be accompanied by much greater testing and tracing than we are able to do today.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab also reassured progress is being made during Monday’s Downing Street press briefing, but added that people must follow social distancing guidance until the crisis has peaked.
He said: “That work, so that we can properly assess the measures that have been introduced, is in place but also that we do not want to confuse the message right now because we are not past the peak,
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Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick
“To get past the peak, we must have people respecting those guidelines otherwise we undo all the good work that so many people have achieved and contributed to through their forbearance, particularly as the weather gets a bit warmer.”
Senior Tories advised that there should be a “staged opening” of schools, shops and restaurants if the risk decreases as to avoid more damage to businesses and workers.
Health and business civil servants were reportedly requested to prepare options for a stage easing.
The strategy could vary by region, industrial sector or by widening the register of key workers.
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The lockdown measures have damaged many businesses
Mr Hancock had been accused during briefings of overlooking the significant economic impact the lockdown measures are having over fears that the NHS collapses under pressure.
Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon, said on Monday that he foresees phased re-openings of schools and restaurants when the outbreak begins to dwindle.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s World at One, the Tory MP said: “We are walking hand-grenades potentially at the moment in the way that we can spread this disease.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock
“And that is what lies I think behind the Government’s decision (to impose a lockdown). I suspect that when things get better, we will be allowed out in stages.
“Vulnerable citizens will probably be told to stay at home and there will be staged openings of schools and restaurants and businesses… but the only thing we can do is follow the advice of the chief medical officer (Chris Whitty) and chief science officer (Sir Patrick Vallance).”
Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell added: “I’m hoping that there will be work going on already to consider how we exit from this lockdown and that requires groups from a number of different disciplines.
Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell
“We need the medics of course, epidemiologists, but we need social scientists – when you hear about people talking about how soon will we get to the peak, and they say, ‘well we don’t know because it’s all dependent on how people behave’, absolutely – so we need behavioural scientists in there.”
The claims come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital’s ICU after his Covid-19 symptoms worsened.
Mr Jenrick said Boris Johnson remains “very much in charge” of the Government despite the current situation.
Number 10 said the hospitalisation was a “precautionary step” and that Mr Johnson was still in contact with ministers and other officials.
Mr Jenrick stated that the move was not an emergency and that he expected the Prime Minister to be back in Downing Street “shortly”.