THE NHS will be put at risk unless the UK adopts a “lockdown-lite” approach in order to kick start the economy, former Northern Ireland minister John Penrose has said – warning of the dire implications of leaving coronavirus restrictions in place too long.
Mr Penrose outlined his views yesterday in a op-ed written exclusively for Express.co.uk, at the end of a week in which Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, currently deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, announced the lockdown was being extended until May 7 at the earliest. The draconian measures were introduced on March 23 in a bid to slow down the rate of COVID-19 infections and ease the pressure on the health service. The most recent Government update, published today, said 124,743 people have so far tested positive for the disease.
Of those hospitalised in the UK in whom COVID-19 was confirmed, 16,509 have died.
Mr Penrose, Tory MP for Weston-super-Mare told Express.co.uk: “If we wait too long, too many jobs will be lost and too many firms will go bust.
“We won’t have protected our NHS if the economy is too damaged to pay for it once this is all over.”
He asked: “Why are we willing to wait outside supermarkets, and to keep our distance once we’re inside, but not garden centres or clothes shops too?”
Addressing the extension, Mr Penrose added: “Dominic Raab is right; if we leave lockdown too quickly, we’re putting lives at risk.
“But we can’t leave too slowly either, because domestic violence, mental health and loneliness are all getting worse, jobs are being lost and firms are going bust.
“We’re going to need ‘lockdown-lite’ rules that make life a bit more normal without risking a second wave of infections.”
He said: “We may be able to relax the rules in small steps.
“Once there are enough tests, football matches and concerts could restart if the players and crew are all clear, even if spectators still have to watch on screens.
“We need new ‘lockdown-lite’ rules that tell us how to go back to work safely, and we need them soon.
“Tell us what we can or can’t do for the next stage of ‘lockdown-lite’, and we’ll get on with it.”
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Raab cited “very clear advice” from Sage, the expert scientific committee advising the government, indicating any immediate lifting of restrictions would “substantially increase the number of deaths”.
Stressing the public’s willingness to stay home was “starting to pay off”, he added: “Based on this advice the government has decided the measures must remain in place for at least the next three weeks.
He added: “We’ve come too far, we’ve lost too many loved ones to ease up now, especially when we’re beginning to see that our efforts are starting to pay off.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel but we are now at both a delicate and a dangerous stage in this pandemic.
“If we rush to relax the measures that we have in place we would risk wasting all the sacrifices and all the progress that has been made.
“That would risk a quick return to another lockdown with all the threat to life that a second peak to the virus would bring and all the economic damage that a second lockdown would carry.
“We need to be patient a while longer, so please please stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS.”