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Boris’s next move: PM’s lockdown-easing plans ‘will see council tips reopen this weekend’

Boris Johnson has mapped out a blueprint to loosen the lockdown which will reopen rubbish tips this weekend followed by garden centres within a fortnight, sources claimed last night.

Council recycling centres could be allowed to take customers in a matter of days if the police give the green light they can cope with the expected rush of people looking to dump six weeks of waste.

As well as a steady reopening of services which have been shuttered by the coronavirus crisis, ministers are also drawing up plans to fire up Britain’s railways as more of the nation’s workforce is allowed to return.

Public transport routes have been operating a significantly cut-back timetable and officials are reportedly mulling how to expand services while maintaining social distancing.   

Passengers will likely be instructed to fashion a homemade mask while floor markings will enforce a two-metre separation rule, a source familiar to the high-level discussions told the Daily Telegraph

The government’s plan will steadily adjust the public to life under a ‘new normal’ which will juggle the need to rescue the economy while observing social distancing. 

The Prime Minister, who completed his first day back in charge at Number 10, yesterday said the country was emerging from the first phase of the epidemic, in a speech which offered the first chinks of light out of lockdown.

Boris Johnson has mapped out a blueprint to loosen the lockdown after returning to work yesterday (pictured after addressing the nation)

Boris Johnson has mapped out a blueprint to loosen the lockdown after returning to work yesterday (pictured after addressing the nation)

Boris Johnson has mapped out a blueprint to loosen the lockdown after returning to work yesterday (pictured after addressing the nation) 

Back at the helm after three weeks recovering from his own battle with the virus, Mr Johnson was on top form as he chaired meetings with his most senior ministers

Back at the helm after three weeks recovering from his own battle with the virus, Mr Johnson was on top form as he chaired meetings with his most senior ministers

Back at the helm after three weeks recovering from his own battle with the virus, Mr Johnson was on top form as he chaired meetings with his most senior ministers 

Boris ‘in properly good nick’ as he storms back into Downing Street 

Boris Johnson was on top form as he stormed back into Downing Street and chaired a ‘full’ cabinet coronavirus meeting in person to the wry smiles of ministers, sources said yesterday. 

The Prime Minister, 55, ditched Zoom despite appeals from advisers to avoid appearing in person and walked confidently into a packed cabinet room for his 9.15am meeting on Monday.

Social distancing rules were ‘pushed to the limit’, with so many ministers back at No10, reports The Times.  

But Mr Johnson, who returned to London from his two-week stint at Chequers on Sunday, was in ‘properly good nick’ and looked in better shape than he was before falling ill, according to the paper. 

There was no sign of his pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, 31, who also fell ill with the virus, but she is believed to be returning to the flat at No11 soon. 

Some watching today’s war cabinet meeting told The Times the PM was ‘asking very detailed questions’ and ‘sounded like he was very much on top of it’.   

One adviser told the paper there was ‘much more energy’ at this meeting than ones before Mr Johnson was struck down with a fever.   

On his first full day back in Downing Street, the Prime Minister spoke optimistically about entering a ‘second phase’ of the battle against the coronavirus in which some of the crippling restrictions can be relaxed.

The PM said this phase would see the Government ‘continue to suppress the disease… but begin gradually to refine the economic and social restrictions, and one by one to fire up the engines of this vast UK economy’.

But he added: ‘We must also recognise the risk of a second spike, the risk of losing control of that virus… because that would mean not only a new wave of death and disease but also an economic disaster.  

The plans were revealed on a day that saw:

  • Hospital deaths from coronavirus drop below 400 for the first time in four weeks;
  • Boris Johnson liken his personal battle with coronavirus to a mugging; 
  • Matt Hancock insist the NHS was open for patients with other illnesses and said cancer treatments would be restored;
  • It emerge that he may not be able to confirm whether he has met his 100,000-a-day testing target on the deadline of this Thursday;
  • A fleet of rapid-response testing units is being set up to stop a coronavirus resurgence;
  • Small firms able to get interest-free loans of up to £50,000 under a fast-track scheme;
  • It revealed four million workers have been furloughed by 500,000 firms, costing the Treasury £4.5billion;
  • Chancellor Rishi Sunak say he was planning a ‘gradual’ winding-down of the scheme;
  • Traffic data suggest drivers are returning to the roads amid lockdown fatigue;
  • Rising numbers of children be admitted to intensive care with symptoms linked to coronavirus;
  • Ministers braced for grim figures on deaths in care homes, where shortages of PPE have been acute;
  • An education watchdog warn of the impact of school closures on children from vulnerable backgrounds.

Back at the helm after three weeks recovering from his own battle with the virus, Mr Johnson was on top form as he chaired meetings with his most senior ministers.

The 55-year-old premier ditched Zoom despite appeals from advisers to avoid appearing in person and walked confidently into a packed cabinet room for his 9.15am meeting.

Social distancing rules were ‘pushed to the limit’, with so many ministers back at Number 10, according to The Times.    

During Mr Johnson’s absence, his de facto deputy Dominic Raab has remained tight-lipped over an exit strategy out lockdown.

But reports from insiders last night suggested a plan had been fleshed out for the country to take baby steps out of lockdown.

Of one of the most eye-catching plans to insist on masks, a Whitehall source told the Telegraph: ‘The plan for masks will be more than a recom- mendation. It is more of a compulsion for them to be worn in shops and on public transport. 

‘On social distancing, transport bosses will need to have two-metre markers in place so people can safely keep their distance.’    

The PM hinted at a change to the lockdown yesterday morning as he addressed the nation on the steps of Downing Street. 

In his first public appearance since he was hospitalised with coronavirus, Mr Johnson said he had been ‘away from my desk for much longer than I would’ve liked’. 

He said: ‘Once again I want to thank you the people of this country for the sheer grit and guts you’ve shown and are continuing to show.

‘Every day I know that this virus brings new sadness and mourning to households across the land.’

Mr Johnson said: ‘It is still true that this is the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war and I in no way minimise the continuing problems we face.

‘And yet it is also true that we are making progress with fewer hospital admissions, fewer Covid patients in ICU and real signs now that we are passing through the peak.

‘And thanks to your forbearance, your good sense your altruism, your spirit of community, thanks to our collective national resolve, we are on the brink of achieving that first clear mission to prevent our National Health Service from being overwhelmed in a way that tragically we have seen elsewhere.

‘And that is how and why we are now beginning to turn the tide.’ 

Mr Johnson, drawing on his own battle with Covid-19 which put him in intensive care, said: ‘If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger – which I can tell you from personal experience, it is – then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.

‘And so it follows that this is the moment of opportunity, this is the moment when we can press home our advantage, it is also the moment of maximum risk.

‘I know there will be many people looking at our apparent success, and beginning to wonder whether now is the time to go easy on those social distancing measures.’

Public transport routes have been operating a significantly cut-back timetable and officials are reportedly mulling how to expand services while maintaining social distancing

Public transport routes have been operating a significantly cut-back timetable and officials are reportedly mulling how to expand services while maintaining social distancing

Public transport routes have been operating a significantly cut-back timetable and officials are reportedly mulling how to expand services while maintaining social distancing

In a statement in Downing Street, the PM assured the country he is back in charge after weeks recuperating from a serious scare with the killer disease

He said he understood ‘how hard and stressful it has been to give up, even temporarily, those ancient and basic freedoms’.

But he said the potential of a second spike in cases risked ‘economic disaster’. 

Mr Johnson added: ‘And so I know it is tough. And I want to get this economy moving as fast as I can, but I refuse to throw away all the effort and the sacrifice of the British people and to risk a second major outbreak and huge loss of life and the overwhelming of the NHS.’

Mr Johnson’s words about the end of the first phase evoked Churchill’s famous 1942 speech after the Allies defeated Rommel’s forces at El Alamein. 

The wartime PM said: ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ 

It is understood Mr Johnson’s pregnant fiancee Carrie Symonds, who was with him at Chequers during his recuperation, has also moved back into Downing Street. She has also recovered from coronavirus. 

Mr Johnson has returned to work ‘full time’, taking back all of the responsibilities handed over to Dominic Raab, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘He’s back full time. In terms of responsibilities and duties, he will be doing all of those.’

Mr Johnson is expected to chair Cabinet on Thursday, but the plan for PMQs is not yet clear. 

The PM’s official spokesman said he would be speaking to Sir Keir Starmer soon to discuss the way forward – although the idea of a government of national unity has been dismissed.

‘He plans to speak with the leader of the Opposition this week and the leaders of all the Westminster parties next week, hopefully alongside the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser,’ the spokesman said. 

Allies have suggested the premier is ready to act earlier than May 7 to get UK plc up and running again, with hints the blanket ‘stay at home’ message from Whitehall will be ditched in favour of a more nuanced stance stressing the public should work where possible. 

Pandemic planning shambles: Hushed-up government drill on killer flu outbreak ‘FAILED to consider PPE, ventilator and testing shortages and found UK woefully unprepared for any new disease’

by Jack Elsom for MailOnline 

A government pandemic response drill four years ago found that the UK was woefully under-prepared to fight a future outbreak, it was revealed last night.

The shortcomings exposed by Exercise Cygnus in 2016 included a lack of capacity in hospital and social care settings which risked becoming overwhelmed.

Checking Britain had a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment and ventilators, as well as assessing testing capacity, were reportedly both glaring omissions from the three-day simulation.

It once again asks hard questions as to why the country’s pandemic defences were not shored up ahead of the current coronavirus crisis despite repeated warnings.

Calls for the findings of Exercise Cygnus to be de-classified and made public have been deflected by the government in recent days.

But the bombshell report, which has been seen by the Sun, now puts pressure on ministers to explain why the advice was not acted upon.

An NHS worker with a fluid-resistant surgical mask

An NHS worker with a fluid-resistant surgical mask

A government pandemic response drill four years ago found that the UK was woefully under-prepared to fight a future outbreak, it was revealed last night (medical staff put on PPE at a testing centre) 

Whitehall departments, the NHS, health bodies and councils were all included in the nationwide mock test of how the UK would cope with a deadly disease.

A subsequent report made 22 recommendations and concluded ‘the UK’s capability to respond to a worst case pandemic influenza should be critically reviewed,’ according to the newspaper.

A source last night told MailOnline the government has ‘been extremely proactive in implementing lessons learnt around pandemic preparedness, including from Exercise Cygnus’. 

One of the holes uncovered by the exercise was an incapacity to deal with an influx in demand for hospital beds as cases soared.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis, the government was accused of being caught flat-footed as it raced to erect brand new Nightingale hospitals to expand capacity.  

Concerns were also raised on creaking social care capacity, the effects of closing schools and the impact on prisons, the Sun reports.

It also claims dispatching PPE to frontline staff was mentioned only once in the 57-page document. 

Members of the British Army wearing PPE work at a testing centre in Ebbsfleet, south London

Members of the British Army wearing PPE work at a testing centre in Ebbsfleet, south London

Members of the British Army wearing PPE work at a testing centre in Ebbsfleet, south London

NHS workers in PPE take a patient with an unknown condition to an ambulance at Queens Hospital in London

NHS workers in PPE take a patient with an unknown condition to an ambulance at Queens Hospital in London

NHS workers in PPE take a patient with an unknown condition to an ambulance at Queens Hospital in London

NHS and social care staff have been crying out for PPE in recent weeks amid alarming scenes from hospitals of medics forced to fashion makeshift gowns from curtains and bin bags.

Exercise Cygnus, which forecast a H2N2 influenza outbreak similar to Covid-19, took place under Theresa May’s premiership while Jeremy Hunt was Health Secretary.

A government spokesperson said: ‘As the public would expect we regularly test our pandemic plans and these exercises have enabled us to rapidly respond to this unprecedented global pandemic.

‘What we learned from these exercises helped us prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed and, now, start to pass through the peak of the virus. 

‘There is still more to do but our response will continue to be guided at all times by the best scientific advice.’

The government could face legal action if it does not publish the findings of Exercise Cygnus, lawyers have said.

Matt Hancock has been asked to release the findings of Exercise Cygnus (pictured speaking at the Downing Street press briefing yesterday)

Matt Hancock has been asked to release the findings of Exercise Cygnus (pictured speaking at the Downing Street press briefing yesterday)

Matt Hancock has been asked to release the findings of Exercise Cygnus (pictured speaking at the Downing Street press briefing yesterday)

NHS doctor and campaigner Dr Moosa Qureshi is demanding the results, which have not been made public, of the drill.

Law firm Leigh Day, which represents Dr Qureshi, said an urgent pre-action letter has been sent to Health Secretary Matt Hancock asking for a response by 4pm on Monday.

He will seek a judicial review if Mr Hancock does not disclose the Cygnus findings or give ‘adequate reasons’ for the refusal, his lawyers said.

Dr Qureshi said: ‘There is no persuasive argument for secrecy when managing a healthcare crisis.

‘Successful science and healthcare provision depend on transparency, peer review, collaboration and engagement with the public.

‘I believe that if the Government had followed the Cygnus exercise by engaging transparently with health and social care partners, with industry and with the public, then many of the deaths of my heroic healthcare colleagues and the wider public during the Covid-19 pandemic could have been avoided.

‘For this reason, I strongly believe that we need to see transparency throughout the entire process of preparation and delivery of care during this pandemic, including the social care sector and NHS Nightingale hospitals.’ 

 

Courtesy DAILY MAIL

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