Coronavirus: Johnson to start conversation on what happens next

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

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image copyrightPA Media
image captionThe government has set five tests for relaxing the current nationwide lockdown

What's next? The prime minister will not give chapter and verse later today on exactly how and when the country's doors will re-open.

But after meeting his cabinet virtually, Boris Johnson will seek to explain to the public how and why, if not exactly when, they will make the decisions that are vital, not just to our health, but the country's suffering economy too.

He'll restate the hurdles that must be passed before any restrictions are lifted, including making sure the NHS can cope, with tests, and equipment, and a consistent fall in the death rate.

Crucially he will emphasise the importance of the so-called "R" rate of infection - in other words, the extent to which people with the virus are passing it on.

That rate has come down significantly since the lockdown was imposed, slowing the spread of the disease. But Mr Johnson will outline how the "R" rate will be a crucial yardstick of whether to lift, or even reinstate, restrictions as the weeks go on.

While fraying at the edges perhaps, ministers believe public support for the restrictions is holding. But today they'll seek to supply at least some of the demand from business, the opposition and some Conservative MPs for more clarity about what might be ahead.

With the death toll still rising though, Mr Johnson is also likely to face questions about what is happening in care homes, and with protective medical equipment in the here and now.

Do not expect today to be a moment where all the answers come.

We know the kinds of measures that ministers are discussing in private, and a little in public now - phased returns of children to school and businesses that can operate outdoors or with social distancing getting back.

And perhaps even, controversially, changing things in different parts of the country at different times.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionConfirmation of whether the government has met or missed its 100,000 testing target won't come until Friday

We know too that there have been significant struggles over PPE and increasing the amount of testing.

Thursday was meant to be the day when Health Secretary Matt Hancock's target of 100,000 tests a day was met. But that now, is not part of today's script.

There is a lag in reporting the numbers that have actually been carried out, so government sources say they can't say until Friday whether the goal has been met. Progress has been bumpy too, although insiders still insist there is a good chance they will meet the target.

After many days in which ministers largely refused to countenance any discussion of the future, and the PM was himself absent recovering from the virus, the government is now ready at least to start the conversation.

It will do so in the belief that, as one cabinet minister described it, the "depressing reality" is that we will be very far from normal for months to come.

But whether today truly meets Boris Johnson's promise of being completely transparent is a different matter.