Ministers are today set to approve a three-week extension to the UK’s coronavirus lockdown amid warnings that the country will have to practise social distancing until a vaccine is found.
Professor Neil Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: We will have to maintain some form of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available.
It came as Captain Tom Moore, the army veteran who set out to raise £1,000 for the NHS by doing laps of his garden 100 times ahead of his 100th birthday, completed his challenge, receiving more than £13million in donations.
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that a total of 27 NHS workers have died since the start of the outbreak, including Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong , 28, a pregnant NHS nurse who died on Sunday after contracting Covid-19.
Schools outside coronavirus hotspots such as London and Birmingham may open as soon as next month. Ministers are considering proposals to open some primary and nursery schools away from the big cities from May, The Times has reported.
Healthy young adults could return to work and children would head back to school under the plans. The proposals were put together by scientific advisors and Public Health England, and shown to Government ministers.
They were floated more than a month after schools in the UK shut. Schools at the top of the list to reopen could be those in regional areas without major outbreaks of coronavirus.
London and Birmingham are very much centres of the pandemic in the UK. A government source confirmed to the Mirror Online that ministers are considering reopening schools at different times in different regions.
But they stressed it is one idea among several being looked at and no final decision has been taken. The source said it is “not a blueprint written in stone” and any lifting of restrictions would have to be approved by many people.
Any change would have to go through the government’s scientific advisors SAGE and the COBRA emergency committee.
The source said it’s a case of when, not if schools reopen but stressed we don’t know where we’re going to be in three weeks when the lockdown is next up for review.
The purpose of keeping schools closed has been questioned by scientists at University College London. They have suggested that the closures have reduced the predicted death rate by as little as two to four percent.
Allowing young adults to return to work is also considered low risk. The death rate for those in their 20s is thought to be around 0.03%.
One minister told The Times: “People have followed the instruction to stay at home to the nth degree. Businesses have closed down, schools have closed down. This was far more than anticipated.
It’s important that we don’t end up doing more damage with the lockdown. We’re looking at another three weeks of lockdown and then we can start to ease it.
Despite the report, health minister Nadine Dorries has urged journalists to stop asking about an exit strategy.
She said: There is only one way we can exit full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine. Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday he agreed that things will not go back to how they were, at least in the short term.
He stressed the number of deaths is still far too high for any exit strategy to be set out, adding the public must instead focus on staying at home.