Easing social distancing measures in the UK too soon would risk a second spike of coronavirus cases, the foreign secretary has warned.
Dominic Raab told the daily press briefing this could trigger a second lockdown that would “prolong the economic pain” across the country.
“We’re not out of the woods,” he said.
Meanwhile, the UK’s chief medical officer said it was “wholly unrealistic” to think life could return to normal soon.
Mr Raab, who is deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, acknowledged the mental, physical and economic strain social distancing measures were having on people throughout the UK.
But he said that the measures “must remain in place for the time being”.
Mr Raab said: “The greatest risk for us now, if we eased up on our social distancing rules too soon, is that we would risk a second spike in the virus with all the threats to life that would bring and then the risk of a second lockdown which would prolong the economic pain we are all going through.”
His warning came as Prof Chris Whitty, the UK government’s chief medical adviser, said forms of social distancing would be needed for a “long time”.
He said it was “a wholly unrealistic expectation” that the UK suddenly moved from lockdown to everything being lifted.
“We are going to have to do a lot of things for really quite a long period of time.”
Prof Whitty added that the best “way out” was via a “highly effective” vaccine or drugs, but said the chance of having those within the next calendar year was “incredibly small”.
He said: “This disease is not going to be eradicated, it is not going to disappear.
“So we have to accept that we are working with a disease that we are going to be with, globally… for the foreseeable future.”
Prof Whitty also said the public should not expect the number of deaths related to Covid-19 to “fall away” suddenly.
Gen Sir Nick Carter, the chief of the defence staff, also joined Wednesday’s press conference and described the military response to coronavirus as the “single greatest logistical feat” of his 40 years of service.
“Our role has been entirely in support of the heroic healthcare workers on the front line – that’s both the NHS and social care – with humility very much being our watchword in the way that we give that support,” he said.
Gen Carter said that the military has been involved with planning, testing and helping the Foreign Office with repatriation efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.
He added that the military was also preparing mobile pop-up testing centres in a bid to roll-out more Covid-19 testing.
“What we are trying to do at the moment is up-scale that idea so that we have enough capacity to get out into those areas which are harder to reach,” he explained.
“It is an overall system that is being put together at the moment, it will be very sophisticated once it is completed and there are some really good people designing it and we are working with those people to make it as good as it possibly can be.”