Senior ministers are gathering for a “lockdown summit” that is expected to result in restrictions on movement being extended until May at the earliest.
Ahead of the COBRA meeting, hopes of an end to the shutdown of pubs, restaurants, shops and other businesses were all but dashed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak and other senior politicians.
Some ministers believe a decision to lift the ban will not be taken until the prime minister returns to work – and as this could be several weeks away, there is no end to the COVID-19 lockdown in sight.
Government medical and scientific advisers are still unsure when there will be a peak in the number of people falling ill with the coronavirus, and in the number of fatalities.
With the Easter weekend looming – and soaring temperatures forecast for Good Friday and Saturday – experts are concerned that failing to maintain instructions to stay at home could prove catastrophic.
It was confirmed on Wednesday that another 938 COVID-19 patients have died in UK hospitals, taking the total to 7,097.
Boris Johnson has now spent a third night in intensive care, and his stand-in Dominic Raab will chair the COBRA talks, attended by cabinet ministers and the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In the latest health bulletin on Mr Johnson’s condition, issued shortly before 7pm on Wednesday, a Number 10 spokesperson said: The prime minister continues to make steady progress. He remains in intensive care.
A few hours earlier, at the latest Downing Street coronavirus news conference, Mr Sunak said: The latest from the hospital is the prime minister remains in intensive care where his condition is improving.
I can also tell you that he has been sitting up in bed and engaging positively with the clinical team.
At the news conference, the government’s deputy chief scientific adviser Angela Maclean hinted that schools could reopen before the lockdown restrictions are eased.
Asked about schools reopening before the summer, she said: There is very interesting work into all sorts of different things that we might do in the next stage.
When the prime minister announced the lockdown in his televised address on 23 March, he told the nation: I can assure you that we will keep these restrictions under constant review. We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.
This three-week period ends on Easter Monday, and the Coronavirus Act rushed through parliament last month states that the government has until next Thursday to review the lockdown.
Although there will be no formal announcement of a decision after the COBRA meeting, it is expected that Mr Raab will warn the public to prepare for an extension of the lockdown at the Downing Street news conference this afternoon.
Presenting evidence at the COBRA meeting on the effectiveness of the lockdown so far will be England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Senior police chiefs will also report on lockdown enforcement and make recommendations on whether any easing of restrictions is possible or – more likely – tougher curbs on movement are needed.
Two leading political figures expected to be involved in the COBRA meeting have strongly resisted calls to relax or end the coronavirus lockdown.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford announced: We will not throw away the gains we have made and the lives we have saved by abandoning our efforts just as they begin to bear fruit.
And London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said: I think we’re nowhere near lifting the lockdown. I speak to experts regularly. We think the peak which is the worst part of the virus is still probably a week and a half away.
(c) Sky News 2020: Coronavirus: UK restrictions set to be reviewed at special ‘lockdown summit’