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Dominic Raab has signalled the coronavirus lockdown is likely to be extended next week.
The first secretary of state, who is deputising for Boris Johnson while the prime minister is in intensive care with the virus, said the government would make a decision on the lockdown towards the end of next week.
But he stressed the UK had not yet reached the peak of the epidemic and that it was “too early” to think about lifting the restrictions until that passes.
“We are not done yet,” he said.
“We must keep going.”
He went on: “It’s been almost three weeks and we’re starting to see the impact of the sacrifices we’ve all made.
“But 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.
“We must stick to the plan and we must continue to be guided by the science.”
He also said data was being gathered on the impact of social distancing and the closure of many businesses, which would be analysed by the government’s Sage science committee.
“While the early signs suggest that they are having the impact we need to see, it’s too early to say that conclusively.
“Sage will meet next week to discuss the latest evidence and we will keep the measures we’ve put in place under review.”
Raab added: “We don’t expect to be able to say more on this until the end of next week.
“The measures will have to stay in place until we’ve got the evidence that clearly shows we’ve moved beyond the peak.”
He also pleaded with people to stay at home and obey the lockdown rules during what is expected to be a sunny and warm Easter weekend.
“After all the efforts everybody has made, after all the sacrifices so many people have made, let’s not ruin it now,” he 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.”
Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance reinforced Raab’s message, stressing that social distancing was working by breaking transmission of the virus, “flattening” the level of hospital admissions and preventing more people going into intensive care.
But he stressed that deaths would continue rising for two weeks after the number of admissions to intensive care slows, while stressing that community transmission of the virus should be “shrinking”.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty meanwhile said the “doubling time” – how quickly it takes for the number of intensive care cases to double – had extended from three days to six days.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.