UK resists calls to ease lockdown as Johnson set to return to work


Boris Johnson will return to work at the start of the week as pressure increases on the UK government over its handling of the coronavirus crisis which has claimed more

than 20,000 lives.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News that Johnson would be back in his Downing Street office on Monday after recovering from the virus and was in "good spirits" and "raring to go".

Johnson has been recuperating at the British prime ministerial retreat, Chequers, outside London since his release from hospital on April 12.

He spent three days in intensive care and later admitted "things could have gone either way."

Raab on Sunday resisted growing calls for the government to relax strict social distancing rules and said they would "be with us for some time".

He told the BBC: "We do want to look at when it's safe, when it's responsible, at ways to allow more outside activities to take place but, again, we have got to have the evidence that it's a surefooted step and doesn't allow the coronavirus to get a grip back on the country."

Johnson ordered the country into lockdown on March 23. It was extended on April 16 and is due for review on May 7.

On Sunday, new Labour leader Keir Starmer wrote to the prime minister asking for details on any potential lifting of restrictions.

He accused the government of making "mistakes" at the beginning of the crisis and added: "The government cannot fall short in its preparations for what happens when the time is right for lockdown measures to be lifted."

The prime minister's return to work comes after health department figures released Saturday showed a further 813 people had died in hospital after contracting COVID-19, pushing the official number of fatalities to 20,319.

Raab described reaching the grim landmark as "heartbreaking".

Earlier in the crisis, senior health officials said that keeping the number of fatalities below 20,000 would be "a good outcome" for the UK.

The latest figures confirm Britain has been one of the worst-hit countries in the world and the actual toll could be much higher when deaths in the community are taken into account, particularly at care homes.

The rise in fatalities has put the spotlight on the government's approach during the crisis and led to questions being asked over shortages in personal protective equipment and a lack of widespread testing, particularly of frontline health and social care workers.

Meanwhile there was a continuing row over the role played by Johnson's controversial chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, after it emerged he attended meetings of the main scientific group advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic.

Downing Street denied that Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of what is supposed to be the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) but said they did attend so as to "understand better" the scientific debates concerning this emergency".

The government has not released the names of those sitting on SAGE and Raab said: "We don't release as a matter of practice the names of all the members of SAGE because of the risk of them being subject to pressure, undue influence."

A former Conservative frontbencher, David Davis, tweeted: "We should publish the membership of SAGE: remove any non-scientist members".AFP

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