The government has confirmed that the lockdown imposed to halt the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been extended for “at least” a further three weeks until the first week of May, at which point it will be reviewed again. The announcement was made by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from illness, at the government’s daily coronavirus press briefing this evening.
Weighing the dual impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on public health and economy, Raab said that relaxing the measures would lead to a resurgence of the virus, which would damage the economy. “Relaxing the measures would make the economic impact worse, not better,” he said.
It means non-essential businesses, which were ordered to shut on 20 March, must remain closed. For restaurants, that means only those operating take-away, delivery, and collection services can remain open.
Raab, who said that providing any further clarity on the lockdown would be an “artificial timeframe,” identified five conditions which needed to be met for the government to lift the lockdown: Space in hospitals; sustained and consistent fall in daily death rate; reliable data that rate of infection decreasing to manageable levels; testing and PPE in hand; any adjustments to the measures wouldn’t overwhelm NHS. The government is not yet satisfied that those conditions have been met.
Though the announcement had been widely expected and the industry is becoming increasingly honest about what it will need to do in order to prepare for the long route to recovery, the uncertainty of the timeframe in the confirmed extension will add to the sense of anxiety. The restaurant industry remains fixed on its dual goal of trying to secure more long-term support from the government on rent relief and compensation from the job retention (furlough) scheme.
The government will now be under increased pressure to support business, including restaurants, in light of announcing these indefinite new measures.