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2020-04-26

The UK at a' dangerous' stage, no insight into the lockdown exit strategy

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Deputizing for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from COVID-19, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the government was working privately on how to move out of the lockdown but it would be irresponsible to speculate in public.

"We're at a delicate and dangerous stage and we need to make sure the next steps are sure-footed," Raab said during a Sky News interview, urging the public to continue to focus on the current guidance to stay home.

"We are proceeding very carefully, and we adhere to the medical advice, the scientific advice, the social distancing measures at this time while doing all the homework to ensure that we are prepared for the next phase in due course

The number of COVID-19-related deaths in hospitals across the UK has risen more than 20,000, the latest data showed on Saturday, with the overall figure likely to be significantly higher once deaths in care homes and hospices are counted.

The economic news was equally devastating. Last week's data showed that demand had slowed to an all-time low, retail sales had plummeted most of the record, and government debt had risen.

With an interest rate-setter from the Bank of England warning that the economic contraction could be the worst in centuries, the data added to pressure on the government to give some indication about when and how people and businesses could get to work.

Johnson, who spent a week in hospital at the beginning of April, including three intensive care nights, will return to full-time work on Monday and is "raring to go," Raab said.

On his desk, Johnson will find an open letter from the opposition Labour Party

leader Keir Starmer arguing that the British government was falling behind

the rest of the world in refusing to open up about how it would ease the

lockdown.

"It's not credible to just act as if this discussion doesn't happen," Starmer wrote in the letter he posted on Twitter on Sunday.

He said he believed the government was too slow to impose the lockdown, increase testing take-up, and get personal protective equipment (PPE) to the hospital and home care staff.

"We need to see a significant step-changing response by the government to this pandemic. Decisions need to be taken quickly and there needs to be clearer communication with the public," he said.

On the question of testing, by the end of April, the government set itself a target of 100,000 tests per day. The latest available data shows that fewer than 29,000 tests were carried out on April 24.

Raab said capability now stood at 51,000 a day and he anticipated an increase in actual testing being done in the week to come.

"In a project like this, you've always got the exponential increase over the last week as the capacity comes on tap," he said. "I think in the last week we're going to see a big surge and we're on track to hit that target."

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