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Covid-19 restrictions expected to be extended in UK as death toll exceeds 7,000

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while he is in hospital, will chair an emergency meeting today.

A billboard of Queen Elizabeth II.
A billboard of Queen Elizabeth II.
Image: PA Images

BRITISH MINISTERS HAVE raised the prospect of coronavirus restrictions extending beyond three weeks, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson spent a third night in intensive care.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Johnson, will chair a Cobra emergency committee this afternoon to discuss the lockdown measures with leaders of the devolved nations.

No decision is expected to be made at that meeting in Johnson’s absence, with key figures in the response instead discussing how it will be resolved next week.

With yesterday seeing a rise of 938 in the number of deaths in hospitals of patients who tested positive for Covid-19 in the UK in recent days, and the Prime Minister still in hospital, there seems little chance of the restrictions being lifted.

The overall death toll is at least 7,097, according to Department of Health figures.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to “speculate” about the future of the lockdown, instead confirming there would be a review of the measures “in and around three weeks” after they started.

The three-week mark will be reached on Easter Monday, while legislation designed to assist with the containment must also be reviewed at least once every 21 days – with the first due to be carried out by 16 April at the latest.

Restrictions in Ireland are also likely to be extended beyond this weekend. 

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Sunak has sidestepped questions about the prospect of different parts of the UK emerging from the lockdown at different times. 

Deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean, addressing the same question, said she suspected “simple strategies might well turn out to be the best to use”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said Britons have responded “really well” to the measures but told ITV’s Peston: “It’s not a case of just throwing that away but in making sure, as we have done every step of the way in our plan, we listen to our experts, we come to a judgment and more of that will be discussed (on Thursday).”

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford earlier said the lockdown will not end in Wales next week, insisting “we will not throw away the gains” by “abandoning our efforts just as they begin to bear fruit”.

‘Steady progress’ 

Debate about the lockdown took place as Downing Street said Johnson remains in intensive care but is making “steady progress”, with further updates expected today.

Sunak said Johnson was “sitting up in bed” and “engaging positively” with the medics treating him for Covid-19 at St Thomas’s Hospital in London yesterday. 

Providing an update on Johnson, a Downing Street spokeswoman said yesterday night: “The Prime Minister continues to make steady progress. He remains in intensive care.”

No 10 earlier said Johnson was no longer working while following the advice of doctors, and receiving just the “standard oxygen treatment” and “breathing without any other assistance”.

Though significantly larger than the previous highest toll of 786, McLean said new cases are not “accelerating out of control”.

At the daily Downing Street press conference, Sunak unveiled a £750 million (about €855 million) bailout to keep struggling charities afloat in the Treasury’s latest emergency measure.

Many charities welcomed the move but some also warned it must be the start – and not the end – of the government’s efforts in protecting the sector.

In Northern Ireland, Stormont minister and Sinn Féin MLA Deirdre Hargey indicated there will be no relaxation of restrictions there after next week’s review.

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