Boris Johnson is resisting pressure to ease the U.K.’s coronavirus lockdown too soon, fearing a second wave of the pandemic could hit the country, a person familiar with the matter said.

The prime minister, who is yet to return to work after being struck by the virus himself, spoke with colleagues including his deputy, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, late on Friday to express caution, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the conversations were private.

The government is facing calls to lift restrictions on movement that have brought the U.K. economy to a near halt and triggered a surge in furloughs and welfare applications. On April 16 Raab extended the lockdown for three weeks amid signs the outbreak is near or at its peak, but there is now an open debate in government about how and when to ease.

“The big concern is a second peak,” Johnson’s spokesman James Slack said on a call with reporters on Monday. “If you move too quickly, the virus could begin to spread exponentially again.”

Slack said Johnson is focusing on his recovery at Chequers, his country residence, and while he is receiving daily updates, he is not doing government work.

The government is also under increasing pressure to explain elements of its response, including delays in getting vital equipment and on testing health workers and others for the virus. On Sunday, the government issued a furious defense of Johnson’s handling of the crisis.

After a report in the Financial Times criticizing the procurement of ventilators and a Sunday Times story which suggested Johnson failed to take the virus seriously in its early stages, the government published two separate rebuttals, one 2,900 words long and the other 2,100 words long.

“This article contains a series of falsehoods and errors and actively misrepresents the enormous amount of work which was going on in government,” the response to the Sunday Times began. It went on to question several of the assertions in the piece.

Since Johnson declared at the end of February that the virus was the government’s top priority, ministers have struggled to deliver on their own targets, with shortages of tests and protective equipment for health workers. By Sunday afternoon, 16,060 people with coronavirus had died in hospitals. The numbers who have died elsewhere, particularly in care homes, are still being counted.

Some parts of the government’s response are still coming. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is set on Monday to launch a 1.25 billion-pound ($1.56 billion) support package for companies focused on research. It’s made up of a 500 million-pound loan fund for high-growth companies, where the government will match private investments with loans that convert to equity if they’re not repaid, and 750 million pounds of grants and loans for smaller firms.

Monday will also mark the moment companies can apply for support paying their staff through the Treasury’s furlough plan. The Resolution Foundation think tank estimated the plan would cover 8 million people. It said it expected almost half of workers in the hospitality and retail sectors will be furloughed.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, one of those leading the response while Johnson recovers from his Covid-19 infection, said the government will continue to refer to the five tests set out by Raab on April 16 before deciding to lift restrictions. There are signs that the number of deaths is leveling off, but officials say it’s too early to call the peak of the virus.

Sunday saw newspaper reports that the government had drawn up a three-stage plan for ending the lockdown that could see schools reopen as soon as May 11. “That is not true, we have not made that decision,” Gove told the BBC.

But Gove confirmed the idea of a staged easing of the lockdown when it does come, saying the hospitality industry would be “among the last” to exit. He said that a contact-tracing phone app, which would help Britain resume public life by enabling the government to see who people with the virus might have passed it to, was in beta testing.

England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said it was too early to say whether the U.K. had responded well or badly to the virus compared to other countries, because the final totals of deaths weren’t yet known.

She also hinted at frustration with the discussions about personal protective equipment (PPE), calling for a “more adult and more detailed conversation” about the issue. She said there had been unprecedented demand and that supply had nevertheless been maintained.

On Monday, Slack said 12 million items of PPE had been delivered yesterday, bringing the total to date to 1 billion items. The government has also put the Royal Air Force on standby to speed up a shipment of supplies from Turkey which has been delayed.


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