Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce a very limited easing of Britain's coronavirus lockdown next week, adopting a cautious approach to ensure there is no second peak of infections that could further hurt the economy.
Johnson is due to announce the next steps in Britain's battle to tackle the novel coronavirus on Sunday following a review by ministers of the current measures that have all but shut the economy and kept millions at home.
At a cabinet meeting of his top ministers, Johnson said Britain would advance "with maximum caution" and be guided by the science and data when considering whether any of the strict social distancing measures could be eased.
"Any easement to the guidelines next week will be very limited," his spokesman told reporters.
"We are at a critical moment in the fight against the virus and we will not do anything which risks throwing away the efforts and sacrifices of the British public."
Ministers are concerned that a swift easing of the lockdown could lead to a second peak in infection rates, which might overwhelm hospitals and force the government to shut down the economy for a second time.
Earlier, the Bank of England held off from further stimulus measures on Thursday but said it was ready to take more action to counter the country's biggest economic slump in over 300 years, caused by the lockdown.
Johnson briefed opposition leaders on the latest situation, with Labour leader Keir Starmer saying there needed to be a national consensus on the next steps in tackling the virus.
"He also reiterated the seven principles that he wants the government to consider when planning for the next phase, including safety at work and preventing a cliff-edge to the job protection scheme," Starmer's spokesman said.
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the only change to the lockdown which had been floated in the media which she might agree to in the immediate future was the limit on people only exercising once a day.
"I must make judgements informed by the evidence that are right and safe for Scotland," Sturgeon, who will decide on whether to ease measures in Scotland, told reporters.
"I will not be pressured into lifting restrictions prematurely before I am as certain as I can be that we will not be risking a resurgence of infection rates."