Fears over a power vacuum at the heart of government were fuelled today after it was confirmed that the coronavirus lockdown will not be reviewed next week.
Downing Street has confirmed the draconian restrictions will not be reconsidered on Monday as scheduled, with warnings the peak of the outbreak might not come for another week and a half.
However, ministers have suggested they are keen for schools to reopen after Easter if the situation does stabilise, with claims they have little impact on the spread and could help revive the crippled economy,
Boris Johnson is ‘stable’ after a second night in intensive care, with his fever said to have dipped as he remains under constant observation at St Thomas’ in central London.
However, there are fears that even the best outcome from his coronavirus struggle will see him out of action for weeks, with experts warning he could need a ‘phased return’ to work.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been ‘deputised’ to fill in for the PM, but the potential issues caused by Mr Johnson’s absence have been underlined as the crucial review of lockdown measures was postponed.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured in Whitehall today) has been ‘deputised’ to fill in for the PM, and chaired the government’s daily coronavirus meeting this morning
Chris Whitty and Matt Hancock were in Downing Street for the daily crisis meeting today
In interviews today, health minister Edward Argar said lockdown could only be reviewed ‘when the scientific advice is such that we appear to have gone over the peak and it is safe to do so’
Mr Raab stressed at the daily Downing Street briefing last night that they could not consider easing the lockdown restrictions until it was clear the peak of the epidemic had passed and it could be ‘responsibly done’.
Downing Street confirmed the review would take place after the three-week mark originally committed to by Mr Johnson on March 23 – which meant by Easter Monday.
However, the emergency legislation laid before Parliament three days after the PM’s announcement states that a review must take place every 21 days, with the first deadline being April 16.
Pressed on when the review will happen, health minister Edward Argar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘When the scientific advice is such that we appear to have gone over the peak and it is safe to do so.’
London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that an easing of the restrictions could be a long way off. ‘I think we are nowhere near lifting the lockdown,’ he told the BBC.
‘We think the peak, which is the worst part of the virus, is still probably a week and a half away,’
But a minister told the Times that reopening schools should be one of the first moves in easing then lockdown.
Experts have said the closures are likely only to have a limited effect on the spread, and mean much of the workforce are tied up with childcare.
‘We need to be led by the science, of course,’ the minister said.
But if we can reopen schools after the Easter holidays things could begin to get back to normal. It could kick-start the economy.’
There was cautious optimism from chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance last night that the fight against Covid-19 ‘could be moving in the right direction’.
Sir Patrick said there were signs that the rates of new infections and new hospital admissions for Covid-19 were ‘flattening off’.
But he added it would be another ‘week or so’ before they could be sure, indicating lockdown measures would not be eased before then.
There are tight limits on Mr Raab’s control of government, as he cannot hire or fire ministers and will not have audiences with the Queen, although No10 insists the UK’s military response and nuclear deterrent have not been compromised.
Downing Street is expected to give a formal update on the premier’s condition later, after saying last night the he is ‘stable’. His ‘persistent’ temperature has reportedly finally dropped while he has been in hospital.
There are also concerns about the PM’s care while he was in isolation, amid suggestions he was not physically monitored and only consulted a doctor by video link.
The UK leader has starkly different arrangements for their health support than in the US, where the president has a dedicated medical team and emergency facilities constantly on standby.
Mr Raab said he is ‘confident’ the PM will pull through after a worsening of his coronavirus symptoms.
Images show the Prime Minister’s changing appearance as his battle with coronavirus continued from (top row left to right) March 27 and 28 and (bottom row left to right) April 1 and 2
Boris Johnson’s fever is said to have dipped in a positive sign as he remains under constant observation at St Thomas’ hospital (pictured today) in central London
He said that ministers would not ‘blink or flinch’ from following the instructions Mr Johnson had set out before he was admitted to hospital.
But he appeared reluctant to say whether he would be prepared to take a decision to break with the PM’s strategy while he was still in hospital if he believed a change of direction was necessary.
‘He’s asked me to deputise for him for as long as is necessary, but the normal Cabinet collective responsibility and principles that inform that will apply,’ he said.
President Donald Trump claimed overnight that the UK was ‘desperate’ for ventilators and had called the US with an urgent plea for 200 to treat the sickest patients.
‘We’re going to work it out, we’ve got to work it out,’ he said. ‘They’ve been great partners. They wanted 200, they need them desperately.’
Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, finally admitted yesterday that the UK needed to learn from the example of Germany where the number of deaths appeared to be growing more slowly.
‘We all know that Germany got ahead in terms of its ability to do testing for the virus and there’s a lot to learn from that and we’ve been trying to learn the lessons from that,’ he said.
The latest official figures from the Department of Health showed that 6,159 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Monday – an increase of 786 on the previous day.
However, Sir Patrick said there were signs the number of new cases ‘could be moving in the right direction’.
‘It’s possible that we’re beginning to see the beginning of change in terms of the curve flattening a little bit. We won’t know that for sure for a week or so,’ he said.