Dominic Raab has said the UK “must keep going” with lockdown measures as he warned against giving coronavirus “a second chance to kill more people”.
The foreign secretary, speaking at Downing Street’s daily briefing, said the government did not expect to be able to give more details on when coronavirus lockdown measures might be lifted until the end of next week.
He reiterated social distancing “will have to stay in place” until there was evidence that “clearly shows we’ve moved beyond the peak” of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are not done yet, we must keep going,” Mr Raab said.
Although there are “early signs” the lockdown measures – which have been in place for approaching three weeks – are “having the impact we need to see”, the foreign secretary stressed it was “too early to say that conclusively”.
“The deaths are still rising and we haven’t yet reached the peak of the virus, so it’s still too early to lift the measures that we put in place,” he said.
“We must stick to the plan.”
When the government first introduced the lockdown measures, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had promised to “look again” at the restrictions after three weeks and “relax them if the evidence shows we are able to”.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which advises ministers, will meet next week to discuss the latest evidence on the spread of coronavirus across the UK.
Ahead of an Easter weekend for which warm and sunny weather is forecast, Mr Raab added fresh emphasis to the government’s instruction for people to stay at home, as he urged people to “think about the sacrifices” of frontline NHS workers.
“After all the efforts everybody has made, after all the sacrifices so many people have made, let’s not ruin it now,” the foreign secretary said.
“Let’s not undo the gains we’ve made, let’s not waste the sacrifices so many people have made.
“We mustn’t give the coronavirus a second chance to kill more people and to hurt our country.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, also stressed the importance of Britons continuing to keep distance between themselves and others in order to break the transmission of coronavirus.
He said: “The measures that everybody has taken, the difficult things that we’ve all had to do, are making a difference, they’re making a big difference.
“We know that the social distancing is working.”
There is beginning to be a “flattening off” in the number of hospital admissions, Sir Patrick added.
England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty revealed the amount of time it was taking for the number of coronavirus infections to double had slowed from “about three days” to “six or more days in almost everywhere in the country”.
The foreign secretary is deputising for Mr Johnson as the prime minister remains in intensive care at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
After his fourth night in hospital, Mr Raab said Mr Johnson “continues to make positive steps forward and he’s in good spirits”.
The foreign secretary revealed he has not yet spoken to the prime minister since taking over his responsibilities.
Responding to Mr Raab’s comments at the Downing Street briefing, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “We’ve said previously that a lockdown in itself is a blunt tool without a national strategy for community testing and contact tracing.
“We’re calling on ministers to outline the next stage of their strategy to give the public the reassurance and clarity they expect.”
Mr Raab gave the daily briefing after chairing a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee, which was joined by senior ministers and the leaders of devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
They were expected to have discussed how a decision about whether to extend coronavirus lockdown measures in the UK will be taken.
Mr Raab also once again chaired the daily morning meeting of the government’s coronavirus “war cabinet” in the prime minister’s absence.
Downing Street said on Thursday morning the prime minister “continues to improve” in intensive care and had a “good night” at St Thomas’ Hospital.
Mr Johnson was first admitted to hospital on Sunday evening for tests after his coronavirus symptoms persisted more than a week after he tested positive for the virus.
His health deteriorated on Monday afternoon, which prompted his transfer to intensive care.
The prime minister is receiving “standard oxygen treatment”, Number 10 added.
Mr Johnson was last seen in public a week ago, when he appeared on the doorstep of 11 Downing Street to join in with the applause for NHS workers.
Mr Raab is expected to take part in Thursday night’s applause.