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Dominic Raab has confirmed the government would reimpose lockdown measures on entire cities if there was a local surge in the spread of coronavirus.
The foreign secretary said on Sunday morning the UK “can’t just stay in lockdown forever” but the government would “absolutely” reimpose “targeted” restrictions.
From Monday, small groups of people will be able to meet and more than two million clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been shielding since March will finally be allowed to spend time with other people outdoors.
But several leading scientists have warned lifting the lockdown too quickly risks the virus getting out of control again.
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) to the government, said people must proceed with “great caution”.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, said she feels is it “inevitable” that England will see a rise in cases.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, yesterday warned the public: “Don’t tear the pants out of it, and don’t go further than the guidance actually says.”
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, Raab said if there was “any up-tick in one particular locality, or one particular setting, we’ve got the ability to take targeted measures”.
Asked if there was a rise in cases in, for example, Greater Manchester, the government had the ability and will to lockdown the city, the first secretary of state said: “Yes, absolutely”.
“We will make sure we’ve got the panoply of measures that can be taken in a targeted way,” Raab said.
“We’ve definitely got the ability, and we will target specific settings, or particular regions, or geographic areas, yes.”
Openshaw told the same programme that “unlocking too fast carries a great risk”.
“We do need to proceed with great, great care at this point,” he said.
Asked if the government was moving too fast, he said: “I think there is a pretty unanimous message now that we need to take this slowly and go step by step.
“We need to evaluate the effect of each step before we move to the next one. I don’t hear any great dissent amongst the amongst the advisers who are speaking in public at the moment.”
Sridhar told Sky News it was “not the right measure right now to open up”.
“It’s a big risk and gamble for exiting lockdown with a larger number of deaths than we did when we actually entered lockdown months back,” she said.
The professor said a rise in the number of coronavirus cases “is right now inevitable looking at the numbers”.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said this morning the gradual easing of lockdown has “got to be a safe one”.
“There is a balance of risk here, I think anyone would appreciate that,” she told Marr.
“In order for the sector to be open safely, government has taken that decision, an Opposition can’t take that decision because we don’t have the scientific advice in front of us.”