Britain is not considering lifting the lockdown imposed almost four weeks ago to control the coronavirus outbreak given “deeply worrying” increases in the death toll, a senior minister said on Sunday.
Britain is at or near the peak of a health crisis in which more than 15,000 people have died – the fifth highest national death toll of a pandemic linked to at least 150,000 deaths worldwide.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said a Buzzfeed report that the government was considering lifting the lockdown in phases over the coming months was not correct.
“The facts and the advice are clear at the moment that we should not be thinking of lifting of these restrictions yet,” Gove told Sky News.
With hospitals under strain, health workers have criticised the government’s advice that personal protective equipment (PPE) worn while treating patients infected with coronavirus could be re-used, as supplies run low across the country.
An 84-tonne delivery of PPE from Turkey, which ministers had said would arrive on Sunday, has been delayed, Sky News reported.
The latest data show 15,464 people have died in British hospitals after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, a total that has increased by more than 800 for three days running.
A further 2,500 had died in care homes during the week to April 13, according to the National Care Forum, a representative body for the adult social care sector.
“One of the things that is deeply worrying and concerning is the high level of deaths,” Gove said.
“The evidence suggests that the rate of infection and the death rate is flattening, but we’re not absolutely certain that we are yet on a downward trajectory.”
Gove described as “grotesque” a Sunday Times story that said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had skipped five crisis meetings to address the coronavirus pandemic early in the outbreak.
“The prime minister took all the major decisions. Nobody can say that the prime minister wasn’t throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus,” he said, adding that the story overall was “slightly off-beam”.
Jonathan Ashworth, a lawmaker for the opposition Labour Party, said this comment was “possibly the weakest rebuttal of a detailed expose in British political history”.