“Careful steps” are needed when easing the lockdown so social distancing will be with us for “some time”, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said.
He told the BBC that passing 20,000 deaths in the UK was “heartbreaking” but the toll could have been “much worse” without the strict measures.
However, Mr Raab did hint at some ways schools, sport and businesses could begin to return to “a new normal”.
It comes as the prime minister is set to return to work on Monday morning.
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The government has been under pressure from Labour to set out its “exit strategy” for lifting the lockdown.
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves said ministers should treat people “like grown-ups” and give businesses, schools and other organisations time to plan for when they are allowed to reopen.
Mr Raab, who has been deputising for Boris Johnson while he recovers from coronavirus, said it was not responsible to start announcing specific proposals until evidence was available to support them as this could risk “misleading” the public.
Rather than a “binary” easing of measures, he told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show the country would end up “moving to a new normal”.
Mr Raab said when schools reopened social distancing measures would need to be in place for pupils and staff.
“I think it’s inconceivable that they would come back without further measures, as are already being applied in those schools that are open for key workers,” he said.
But he would not be drawn on a suggestion that this would mean groups of pupils returning to lessons on different days or times to keep pupil numbers down.
He suggested social distancing measures already being seen in food shops and other businesses that have remained operating could also be expanded to non-essential businesses if they were to reopen.
Asked whether there was any chance of people being able to play sport outside this summer, Mr Raab said this would be “very difficult because of the level and scale of interaction”.
But he added: “I think the professional sport may be different because of the scale of testing that they would be able to introduce.”
Labour minister Ms Reeves told the programme the government should publish its plans for exiting the lockdown and allow them to be scrutinised.
“People have by and large stuck by the rules that have been put in place and because they’ve done that I think it is even more important that we communicate with them, treat them like grown-ups, in where we’re going next,” she said.
Meanwhile, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned she could delay any lifting of the restrictions in Scotland if she thought the government at Westminster was moving too quickly.
“If… the UK government took decisions that I thought were premature in terms of coming out of the lockdown then clearly I would want to make sure that Scotland did what I judged was best to protect the population,” she told the programme.
But Ms Sturgeon added she would not take a different path “for the sake of it”.