A top Tory has declared England’s national lockdown will end on time on December 2.
Alok Sharma twice told the nation the shutdown of pubs, gyms, hairdressers and non-essential shops “will end” on the intended date.
It comes despite Boris Johnson previously stopping short of giving a guarantee – and despite a big leap in the number of daily confirmed cases today.
The Prime Minister has promised the laws which enforce the lockdown will end on December 2, but stopped short of saying the lockdown itself will definitely end on time.
The laws could be extended if MPs vote for them again, and top Tory Michael Gove has made clear the lockdown could be extended if needs be.
But Business Secretary Mr Sharma said today: “We’ve made it very clear that the national restrictions will come to an end on December 2 and then we will move back into the tiering system.
“I think what’s important right now is… we observe the rules, observe the guidance, and do the basics to protect ourselves. Wash your hands, cover your face, maintain social distance.
“And of course, as we get to December 2 the Prime Minister will set out more details.
“But the national restrictions will be coming to an end on December 2.”
Even when lockdown ends, Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of NHS England, warned life would not “be going back completely to normal.”
He added: “There will need to be other measures in place because while this virus is still here, we need to ensure that infection rates stay as low as possible and that we reduce the chance of transmission.”
It comes after a massive jump in the number of new daily people testing positive to 33,470 – the highest ever recorded figure.
It is possible case numbers were higher in the first wave when testing was less widespread.
Prof Powis urged people “don’t look at a single day” and stressed the rolling average of new daily cases was 22,524 – up only slightly from 22,398 a week ago.
Meanwhile there are now 14,196 Covid patients in hospitals across the UK, up from 12,406 a week ago – and up from 3,827 one month ago.
There are 1,219 patients in ventilation beds, up from 1,142 a week ago.
Prof Powis ducked the question of whether December 2 was too soon to end the lockdown – saying that is “quite rightly is a decision for government.”
But he said what the system looks like is too soon to call. “Exactly what those measures are it’s too early to say yet,” the top expert said.
“We’re only one week into this four week lockdown. We need to see what transpires over the next few weeks.”
Boris Johnson is planning to outline the plan for after December 2 in around two weeks’ time in Parliament. England will return to a tiered system but the details may be different to how they were before.
Prof Powis said data is now showing Tier 3 lockdown was beginning to work in Liverpool – but we’ll have to wait a week or two before we know if the national lockdown is having an effect.
Today’s update comes after two studies suggested the ‘R’ number in England may now be below 1 – meaning the spread of the virus is shrinking each week.
Imperial College London’s REACT study calculated between October 26 and November 2, just before lockdown, it was at 0.85. It was below 1 in all but two regions.
And data from the ZOE Covid-19 Symptom app suggested the ‘R’ rate in every nation in the UK appears to now be below 1.
R means how many people are infected by each person with Covid-19, on average. More than 1 and the rate of virus grows each week; less than 1 and the rate of virus shrinks.
In the most recent survey period, REACT scientists estimated 1.3% of the entire population of England – around 1 million people – had the virus at any one time.
But the REACT study did show promising results in the week to November 2 – known as ’round 6b’ of the study.
The R number in round 6b was said to be 0.77 in London, 0.83 in the North West and 0.88 in Yorkshire and the Humber. It was only above 1 in the North East (1.15) and East of England (1.12).
In round 6a the R number was 2.86 in London, 1.21 in the North West, 1.54 in Yorkshire and the Humber, 0.57 in the North East and 2.18 in the East of England.
Prof Powis told the press conference infections must not just “plateau at a high level” – saying it is important infection rates go down too.
Mr Sharma urged people to keep following social distancing and lockdown rules.
This time adding a caveat to his comments, he said: “I hope that if people do that, then we will beat this thing down and we will be coming out of the national restrictions on December 2.”