The British government defended the continuation of its near-lockdown on Monday against calls to publish an “exit strategy,” saying it fears a second peak of COVID-19 infections if it eases the lockdown too soon.
“At this stage of the crisis we are absolutely focused on sticking to the guidance,” Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak told reporters.
“We are not there yet and it is very clear that, for now, what we should focus on is following the guidance, staying home to protect the (National Health Service),” Sunak said when asked about how far the government was from meeting its criteria for relaxing the lockdown.
“Anything else that people might be speculating on is wrong. We are crystal clear on that message,” he said.
Experts at Oxford University said Britain could have already passed its first peak of deaths linked to infections with the virus, after health authorities reported a fall in the daily total of recorded deaths to 449 across the four nations of the United Kingdom.
The NHS in England, where most of Britain’s 16,509 deaths in hospitals have been reported, added 429 deaths to its total on Monday.
“Consistent with previous analyses, the peak day of deaths was April 8,” said Jason Oke and Carl Heneghan of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBN).
“The structure of the data is similar across the regions, with the peak in London on April 4, four days ahead of the rest of the country,” Oke and Heneghan wrote in a blog post, noting that NHS England reported 36-per-cent fewer hospital deaths on Monday than a week earlier.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office told reporters earlier that the government’s “big concern is a second peak.”
“That is what ultimately will do the most damage to health and the most damage to the economy.
“If you move too quickly, then the virus could begin to spread exponentially again,” the spokesman said.
He added that the government aimed to meet the public expectation that it should “do everything (it) can to stop the spread of the virus and protect lives.”
Britain has reported the world’s fifth-highest total of deaths per capita linked to COVID-19 infections, behind Belgium, Spain, Italandand France.
Many health experts, opposition politicians and media commentators have accused the government of a slow response to the crisis, and criticised Britain’s low level of testing and the poor provision of intensive care beds, ventilators and protective equipment.
Responding to a highly critical Sunday Times article, Downing Street insisted the government had been “working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect (the National Health Service) and save lives.”
The government has ordered everyone to stay at home except for trips for food shopping, medical needs, or one form of exercise per day.
Schools, pubs and restaurants are closed, and people are encouraged to work at home and avoid public transport.