Boris Johnson has declared the UK is “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak and pledged to next week publish a “roadmap” outlining a strategy on how lockdown restrictions could be eased.
Speaking at his first media briefing in London since returning to work, the Prime Minister said a “comprehensive plan” would soon set out “how we can get our economy moving” and how people might travel to work.
But Mr Johnson warned the timing around easing each individual restriction would depend on “where we are in the epidemic” – meaning lockdown could stretch into June.
His comments came as Nicola Sturgeon quashed any hopes of a lifting of any lockdown restrictions in Scotland next week, with the First Minister stressing the reduction in the spread of coronavirus was still “too fragile”.
Mr Johnson tried to sound an optimistic tone as he fielded questions from journalists for the first time since his recovery from Covid-19.
“What you are going to get next week is really a roadmap, a menu of options,” he said.
“The dates and times of each individual measure will be very much driven by where we are in the epidemic, what the data is really saying, and we are getting in a lot more data every day now and in the course of the next few days.”
But Scotland’s beleaguered tourism industry suffered a fresh setback after the Prime Minister warned the effective travel ban would not be lifted while there was a risk of a second wave of the coronavirus.
Mr Johnson pledged to help the country’s economy bounce back “as strongly as it possibly can” after the ban on non-essential travel left sections of the tourism industry in tatters, but cautioned against expecting a return to normality until it was safe to do so.
It comes as police forces across the country continue to turn holidaymakers back if they are suspected of embarking on long-distance travel, with Michael Gove this week telling MPs that members of the public should not travel to visit popular British seaside resorts “at the moment and for some time to come”.
Mr Johnson told a concerned business owner known only as “Michelle from Cornwall” that tourism would be managed so as to avoid a second wave of coronavirus cases, having yesterday confirmed the country had officially passed the first peak.
He added: “We’re going to make sure the UK bounces back as strongly as it possibly can but we’ve got to be sensible.
“It’s vital that does not fray and we don’t see people starting to disregard what we’re saying.
“Michelle, the short answer is you’re dead right, we have to get your business going again, we’ve got to get tourism going again.
“But we can’t allow such a big influx of tourists as to create a second spike - a second wave - of the disease.”
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon raised concerns about an increase in passengers using concessionary travel and car drivers on the roads in the last week.
The First Minister said that while “real progress” has been made on tackling the spread of the virus and reducing the R number, or infection rate, to below one – down from three at the start of lockdown – there could be no relaxing of measures in the foreseeable future as the gains were “too fragile”.
She reminded the public that only essential journeys should be made, and that households should not mix and admitted that the news that there was unlikely to be any easing of restrictions, would dismay many people struggling with lockdown.
According to the latest statistics, the number of people who have died after testing positive for the virus in Scotland has risen to 1,475, up 60 from 1,415 yesterday.
A further 11,353 people have now tested positive for Covid-19, up by 319 in 24 hours, with 1,748 people in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, and of these patients,
109 are in intensive care, a reduction of five.
The government is due to review its coronavirus lockdown strategy on May 7, and last week published a framework document for how restrictions might be lifted, but today Ms Sturgeon said she had to deliver a “tough message”.
“I have to be straight with you, it may very well be too early, even this time next week, in any meaningful way, to safely lift any of the current restrictions,” she said.
While the fall in the R number was “real and very positive progress” she said she was “not confident that the R number is very far below one yet, and that means any easing up at all in the current restrictions - either formally by government decisions or informally by people becoming a bit less compliant as we all get more and more weary and frustrated - would quickly send it back above one.
“The point I am making today is not an easy one, but it is an essential one. The progress we have made is real and it is significant, but it is still very fragile.
The margins we have for ensuring the virus doesn’t take off again are really, really tight. That means we must be very cautious at this stage.”
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