Divisions have emerged in the PM’s top team over how soon the draconian curbs should be eased as they lay waste to the economy.
Government sources say there is ‘zero’ chance of the restrictions being lifted in a formal review this week – but some ministers want to start moving into a new phase early next month, while others favour delaying weeks longer.
The implications of the timing has been cast into sharp relief with Chancellor Rishi Sunak warning that UK plc could shrink by 25-30 per cent in the coming months, costing millions of jobs.
However, much is likely to hang on the situation in Italy and Spain, which appear to be past the peaks of their outbreaks and are tentatively starting to loosen their lockdowns.
The Cabinet is hoping Boris Johnson (pictured delivering a heartfelt thanks to the NHS yesterday) will return to take crunch coronavirus lockdown decisions
The implications of the timing has been cast into sharp relief with Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured in Whitehall last week) warning that UK plc could shrink by 25-30 per cent in the coming months
Mr Johnson is recovering from coronavirus at Chequers after admitting that his fate could have gone ‘either way’.
The Prime Minister spent a week in St Thomas’ Hospital in central London, including three nights in intensive care, but left yesterday to be reunited with pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds.
He is now convalescing at the country residence in Buckinghamshire after doctors ordered the Tory leader to rest.
Number 10 has confirmed that the PM will ‘not be returning to work immediately’ following his discharge.
But Cabinet sources told the Telegraph Mr Johnson should sign off on the major moves on lockdown. ‘The Prime Minister has to take that decision. Any lockdown will have huge implications, and the PM will be responsible for it, so he’s got to be the the one taking that decision,’ they said.
A senior Tory MP added: ‘It should absolutely be Boris. He’s the captain of the ship. It has to be someone who has the confidence of the nation.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, speaking at the Downing Street briefing yesterday, said there was no advice on how long Mr Johnson should rest before returning to work.
‘That will be a clinical decision for his doctors to take with him,’ he said.
‘The Government is operating perfectly efficiently within the strategy that he set out.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is ‘deputising’ for the PM as the government faces another crucial week.
In an emotional speech posted on social media following his hospital release, Mr Johnson admitted his condition ‘could have gone either way’ and thanked NHS staff for saving his life.
Former Tory communications chief Ms Symonds joined in praising the ‘incredible’ staff who treated her husband-to-be, tweeting that she would ‘never, ever be able to repay you’.
Mr Johnson called the NHS ‘unconquerable’ after seeing first-hand how it was dealing with the pandemic and heralded the ‘personal courage’ of everyone from doctors to cooks at St Thomas’.
He added: ‘We will win because our NHS is the beating heart of this country.
‘It is the best of this country. It is unconquerable. It is powered by love.’
His comments came as it was confirmed the number of those who had died in UK hospitals after contracting Covid-19 had breached the 10,000 mark.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that the UK looked set to have ‘one of the worst, if not the worst’ death rate in Europe.
The formal review of the strict social distancing measures is due, required under emergency powers legislation, is set to be reviewed by ministers on Thursday.
Downing Street has said it will only look to lift restrictions once science and medical advisers recommend doing so.
But pressure is mounting to change tack soon, reported that Mr Sunak is estimating a massive impact on the economy.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, speaking at the Downing Street briefing yesterday, said there was no advice on how long Mr Johnson should rest before returning to work
The National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) think-tank last week suggested 25 per cent of the UK economy could be lost by the summer due to the current controls.
According to the Times, Mr Sunak has told colleagues the consequences could be even worse with GDP falling by a third in the second quarter.
Mr Sunak is said to be among a group of Cabinet ‘hawks’ – also including education secretary Gavin Williamson and Home Secretary Priti Patel – who want the lockdown eased more quickly. However, other ‘doves’ such as Mr Hancock and Michael Gove are apparently cautioning against lifting the restrictions too early.
A Government source said there was no ‘table-thumping’ going on, but added of Mr Williamson: ‘He’s Education Secretary – he’d, of course, prefer schools to be open. But it’s not his choice. He is worried about all children and how they are going to do. There is no replacement for children going along to classes under the supervision of teachers who know them.
‘However, schools will only be opened when it is safe to do so.’
Mr Hancock last night announced a new NHS coronavirus app that the Government hopes will help stem the spread of the virus by helping people to self-isolate before they start showing symptoms, as the Government looks to find a way out of the lockdown.
He said: ‘If you become unwell with the symptoms of coronavirus you can securely tell this new NHS app and the app will then send an alert anonymously to other app users that you’ve been in significant contact with over the past few days.’
Opposition parties, including Labour and the Liberal Democrats, have called for parliamentary scrutiny of the data use.
On Sunday the Department of Health said, as of 5pm on Saturday, a total of 10,612 patients had died in UK hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus, up by 737 from 9,875 the day before.