Light at the end of the tunnel: Lockdown exit options to be set out

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon have both suggested emergency measures in place to fight coronavirus are working, with the First Minister set to unveil options for Scotland’s phased exit from lockdown this week.

Speaking outside Number 10 on his return to work after battling Covid-19 in hospital, the Prime Minister said “we are now beginning to turn the tide” of the disease.

He warned, however, that it was too early to start lifting restrictions and warned we were still at the time of maximum risk for allowing a new wave of infections.

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Read more: Sturgeon to set out lockdown exit options

Ms Sturgeon meanwhile used her daily coronavirus briefing to reveal a fall in admissions to intensive care in recent weeks and said that hospitals have escaped being “overwhelmed” by the pandemic.

In further developments yesterday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced loans worth up to £50,000 for small businesses, with the government guaranteeing 100 per cent of the risk. The “bounce back loans” will have the interest paid by the government for the first 12 months.

And Matt Hancock, the UK government Health Secretary, unveiled a life assurance scheme to pay £60,000 to the families of those frontline NHS and social care workers who have died in the course of their duties.

Ms Sturgeon told the daily briefing in Edinburgh that the number of people in intensive care in Scotland has fallen by a third in the past fortnight to a figure of 134.

Overall cases seen in Scottish hospitals have stabilised at 1,762 after “rising sharply” in the first ten days of the outbreak. Ms Sturgeon said: “We are now seeing some real signs of progress.”

She added: “The trend there may also be a downward one. Our NHS, while working incredibly hard and in the most difficult circumstances, has not been overwhelmed which just a few weeks ago we really feared that it might be.”

And despite the number of deaths still showing no signs of decreasing, this was always expected to the last figure to decline under the government’s modelling.

“We hope to see that in the next couple of weeks,” Ms Sturgeon said.

“We do have evidence that the actions of all of us are taking are making a real and a positive difference. Your efforts are working so again I want to thank you for that.”

There were 13 new deaths in hospitals reported yesterday although this is likely to be lower as a result of the diminished rate of registrations at the weekend.

The 197 new positive tests reported yesterday was also markedly down on the 300-plus rate of recent days.

But the progress so far remains “fragile”, the SNP leader added.

“It’s certainly not a time to throw caution to the wind,” she said.

The Scottish Government published a paper on Thursday setting out how decisions on easing restrictions could be made.

“We are now thinking about the ways in which we can begin to ease the lockdown when it is safer to do so although we can’t yet put a date on any of that,” the SNP leader went on.

“Lifting lockdown will not be a flick of a switch moment, we will instead be considering gradual and careful variations.

“But it is important and necessary to do that work now.

“In the coming days I will say more about the different options under consideration and how we are going about assessing those.”

But she warned Scots that they must stick with the current restrictions “for now” in order to be able to relax the current lockdown restrictions in future.

The crucial “r” figure for Scotland, which signifies the reproductive rate of the virus is less than zero which means each infected person is passing it on to fewer than one other person on average, meaning numbers begin to fall.

But Ms Sturgeon added: “At this stage even a slight easing up in the restrictions in place now could send reproduction rate above one, then the virus would then start to spread very quickly again.

“Within days of that all the indicators that are suggesting progress now would start to go in the wrong direction again.

“That would mean more cases, more hospital and intensive care admissions and sadly more deaths.”

It means all of the current restrictions are likely to remain place for some time.

“For all if us, if you’re going out and about a little bit more than you were at the start of the lockdown, then you really shouldn’t be - you might be putting yourselves and your loved ones at risk.”

Businesses were also warned against re-starting operations again too soon amid concerns that it would just prove more harmful to the economy in the long-run if a premature return saw a second spike in numbers and an even longer shutdown imposed.

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