The Government has urged people to stay home over Easter as police warned they were ready to take action against those who flouted the coronavirus lockdown rules.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was still too soon for ministers to begin lifting the strict social distancing rules introduced last month.

Mr Raab – who has been deputising for Boris Johnson – said they could not begin to start looking again at the measures until the end of next week.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister – who had been in intensive care since Monday evening – has been returned to the ward at St Thomas’ Hospital following an improvement in his condition.

Good wishes have flooded in for Mr Johnson, from colleagues, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and US president Donald Trump.

Mr Raab’s warning came amid fears that with fine weather forecast for the bank holiday weekend, crowds will again flock to beaches and beauty spots in defiance of the rules.

On Thursday night, the Government announced it was launching a publicity drive over the bank holiday weekend to drive the message home to get the public to follow the lockdown guidelines.

Earlier Downing Street offered the Government’s “full backing” to police forces seeking to enforce the restrictions over the holiday period.

The warning came as the latest official figures showed the number of hospital patients in the UK who had died after testing positive for Covid-19 had risen to 7,978 as of 5pm on Wednesday – an increase of 881 on the previous day.

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At the daily No 10 press conference, Mr Raab acknowledged that it was hard for people hoping to go out and be with their families over Easter, but he urged them to show restraint amid signs the measures were having an impact.

“Unfortunately right now we just can’t do those sorts of things and I am really sorry about that,” he said.

“It’s been almost three weeks and we’re starting to see the impact of the sacrifices we’ve all made.

“But the deaths are still rising and we haven’t yet reached the peak of the virus. So it’s still too early to lift the measures that we put in place.

“We must stick to the plan and we must continue to be guided by the science.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
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Mr Raab was speaking after chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee to consider how it would proceed with the three-week review, due next week, of the lockdown rules.

He said the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) would be looking at the evidence but it would not be possible to say any more until the end of next week.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said measures were “breaking transmission” of the disease with signs of a “flattening off” in the numbers of new cases and hospital admissions.

However he warned the numbers of deaths would continue to rise for a “few weeks” and that it was too soon to relax social-distancing.

“It is incredibly important that we continue to do what we are doing,” he said.

The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said that while the numbers admitted to intensive care had been doubling every three days, that had now slowed.

“This is really now becoming not quite flat, but the doubling time is now six or more days in almost everywhere in the country and extending in time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Raab said that Mr Johnson was continuing to make “positive steps forward”.

He said he had not spoken to the Prime Minister since he was admitted to hospital at the weekend but insisted that he had “all the authority I need” to make key decisions in his absence.

Earlier, with police forces across England and Wales making clear they would be stepping up measures over the weekend to ensure the rules were enforced, Downing Street said they were acting with the full support of Government.

“We have given them a job to do. They will use their own discretion about how they best do that job,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

“The powers which we have given the police are there to save lives. The police have our full backing and they have the public’s backing too.”

However there was a rebuke for Northamptonshire Chief Constable Nick Adderley after he suggested his force could mount road blocks and search shopping trolleys to check if people were going out to buy non-essential items.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told talkRADIO: “That is not appropriate, let me be clear on that. That is not the guidance.”