POLITICS
14/04/2020 22:30 BST | Updated 15/04/2020 08:26 BST

Labour Demands Coronavirus Exit Strategy Is Published 'This Week'

Keir Starmer cautions UK-wide lockdown is "not affecting people equally".

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Labour leader Keir Starmer has demanded the government’s coronavirus exit strategy be published this week as he warned of the “silent pressures on families”. 

In a letter to Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson, Starmer said the restrictions are “not affecting people equally”, with the risk of poverty, mental health crisis, domestic abuse thought to be much higher 

Ministers plan to announce that the lockdown will continue on Thursday after they meet top scientists.

But they refuse to be drawn on when it may end, often repeating that the government will “take the right measures at the right time”.

Starmer said Labour will support the first extension, but urged the first secretary of state to outline how and when the lockdown will be relaxed and how ministers will decide, before telling him ”overcoming this crisis requires taking the British public with you”. 

“We agree the measures need to remain in place, but to maintain morale and hope, people need a sense of what comes next,” Starmer said. “The silent pressures on communities across the country cannot be underestimated.

“Many will be struggling with their mental health as well as other health conditions that may not receive the attention they normally would without the virus.

“For some it will be heightened concerns about their jobs or how they will make ends meet.  For others the challenge will be loneliness and separation from loved ones, illness or losing someone to this terrible disease. 

“This lockdown is not affecting people equally. In fact, it has exacerbated existing inequalities in our country. A family living in an overcrowded flat will have particular challenges.

“And it is hard to imagine the daily horror of someone trapped in a home with his or her abuser. The government has a duty to do what it can to alleviate these pressures on people.”

While scientists say strict curbs on Brits’ lives - including closures of schools, shops and pubs and most people working from home - have slowed the spread of the disease, it is unclear whether the outbreak has peaked. 

The government has also been mired in criticism over how it has handled the crisis, with Johnson’s wait to enforce a lockdown, a lack of personal kit for healthcare workers and failures to ramp up testing all in the spotlight. 

PA
Dominic Raab during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus 

It is thought power-holders fear people will begin to ignore the ‘stay at home’ advice if an exit strategy is made public, but Starmer argues ministers must be transparent. 

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) will meet with government to discuss the lockdown on Wednesday. 

Starmer said Raab must set out the criteria the government will use to inform how and when it intends to ease the lockdown, publish the exit strategy now or in the coming week and outline the sectors and public services most likely to see restrictions eased.

He said: “The question for Thursday therefore is no longer about whether the lockdown should be extended, but about what the government’s position is on how and when it can be eased in due course and on what criteria that decision will be taken.

“Ministers have argued that now is not the time to talk about this. I profoundly disagree. Overcoming this crisis requires taking the British public with you.”

A government source told HuffPost UK that ministers were acting on the advice of experts, adding: “Our strategy is focused on saving lives. We have been clear that all decisions will be guided by the scientific advice and data.

“Talk of an exit strategy before we have reached the peak risks confusing the critical message that people need to stay at home in order to protect our NHS and save lives.”

It came as the independent Office for Budget Responsibility said unemployment could increase by two million and UK GDP could fall by 35% in the second quarter of 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Health chiefs, meanwhile, have confirmed that the number of people who had died in UK hospitals after contracting coronavirus had risen by 778 in 24 hours to reach 12,107. The figure represents an increase of 7% on Monday’s total of 11,329 deaths.