Coronavirus: Matt Hancock says he will 'not allow' early lifting of lockdown amid calls to relax restrictions

Health secretary pushes back against calls from Tory MPs and ministers

Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has vowed to block any attempts to relax the coronavirus lockdown despite mounting calls from cabinet ministers and MPs for the restrictions to be eased.

Hancock said he would "not allow" the social distancing measures to be diluted until the threat of a second wave of the illness has been eradicated.

His comments also put him at odds with several members of the cabinet, who are keen for the strict shutdown to be relaxed to minimise the economic damage it is causing.


Conservative backbenchers have also demanded a "step by step" plan for how the government plans to start returning life to normal.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, told The Times: "If we keep the lockdown going, it will be much more difficult for the economy to recover.

"The nation is quite divided on this and it’s up to the government, I think, to exercise leadership. Unless we do something fairly soon the economy is going to take a real hit."

But Hancock said it was too soon for the government to give precise details on when the lockdown can start to be lifted.

He told Radio Four's Today programme: "The British public have been unbelievably resolute in supporting the lockdown measures because they understand the impact on the number of people who ultimately die from this disease and I stand with the British public with that resolve.

"Of course there will be a time when we need to make changes, and we’ve set out the five tests precisely to give people the guide on when those changes can safely be done. I will not allow the changes to be made that are unsafe.

"The point is that the improvement in health from getting the number of new cases right down is also the best thing for the economy because the worst thing for the economy would be a second spike."

The health secretary also denied that Westminster was being left behind by the Scottish Government, which yesterday published a 26-page document setting out the critieria for easing the lockdown in Scotland.

The document said the outbreak “will mean continued uncertainty and changes” to the way people in Scotland live their lives

And it says the Scottish Government will likely keep in force bans on large gatherings – such as at public events and pubs – “for some time to come”.

It sets out six principles that will guide Scottish ministers in lifting measures, promising to make decisions that are “safe”, “lawful”, “evidence-based”, “fair & ethical”, “clear”, “realistic” and “collective”.

But Hancock said foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while the prime minister recovers from Covid-19, had already set out the five-step plan that Downing Street will follow when deciding how to proceed.

Hancock said: "We have released a framework - we released it last Thursday, which is five tests for the things that need to happen before we can make changes. 

"It’s not different because if you read the Scottish document, it is essentially a reiteration broadly of those five tests.

"It doesn’t set out what the Scottish government is going to do."

Meanwhile, the minister insisted he believed the UK will be carrying out 100,000 coronavirus tests a day by the end of April, despite the fact that the current total is only 22,800.

But he added: "Nothing is guaranteed in life." 

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