Evening briefing: NHS services to reopen, but Whitty warns of "long, long" road ahead

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Vital NHS services shut down during the coronavirus crisis will begin reopening from tomorrow, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced this afternoon, starting with the “most urgent” treatments such as cancer care. Other services will slowly come back online over the next few weeks, with the pace of the restoration determined by local factors.

Good news, certainly, but not – as Stephen Powis, medical director for NHS England, was keen to stress – a sign that coronavirus restrictions are easing. Far from it: the fact NHS capacity is expanding is a sign that lockdown is working, Powis said.

As if to underline the point, Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, took great pains to repeatedly warn that the country had a “long, long way to go” in tackling coronavirus. To look at the crisis as simply this first wave of infections would be a mistake, he said. We may be through the first peak, but the country has a "long, long way to go beyond that", and the crisis could go "a lot of different ways" over the coming months.

Whitty also fleshed out government plans for “shielding” vulnerable patients in response to a question from a member of the public – the first of many that will be asked in future Downing Street coronavirus briefings. Asked whether a grandmother from Skipton would be able to hug her grandchildren once the lockdown begin to ease, Whitty said that if she’s an older person, or has a “significant medical problem”, the answer will likely be no.

"If she's in a group that's vulnerable, then the answer is it might well be prudent – and this will depend entirely on individual circumstances – for her not to get into a situation where she's putting herself at risk," he said, adding that “it is important that people who are vulnerable continue to be protected even after whatever the next steps are”.

Earlier, Boris Johnson used his first full day back in Downing Street following his recovery from coronavirus to warn that now was not the right time to ease restrictions because doing so would risk a second peak of infections. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a new “microloan” scheme for small businesses, and the NHS warned of an emerging illness in children that may be linked to coronavirus. You can scroll down through this blog to catch up on all the latest news.

Image credit: Chris J Ratcliffe / Stringer
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