Coronavirus lockdown could start being eased 'within weeks', a Cabinet minister said today - as the Treasury pushes for the crippling economic shutdown to end by June.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick suggested the current lockdown measures could be gradually eased after Easter - but stressed a full exit strategy will require much more testing.
There were claims today that government officials have started drawing up a list of options for removing some restrictions if hospital admissions stay stable.
Senior Tories suggested that there should be a 'staged opening' of schools, shops and restaurants if the risks recede to avoid dealing more punishment to firms and workers who have already been left on the brink.
In a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Jenrick said there was currently 'excess capacity' in intensive care units 'across the country', which had to be maintained to ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick suggested the current lockdown measures could be gradually eased after Easter
Boris Johnson was admitted to hospital near Downing Street on the advice of his doctor after continuing to run a high temperature
A woman is told to go home by a police officer on a motorbike to stop the spread of coronavirus and keep the park open for people observing the British government's guidance of social distancing
'If we can do that then we can look in the weeks to come to begin to very carefully... lift some of those measures,' he said.
'But an exit strategy that's sustainable will also have to be accompanied by much greater testing and tracing than we are able to do today.'
The Times said Treasury officials have warned that if the lockdown lasts beyond June there will be permanent damage to the economy.
Civil servants in the health and business departments were reportedly asked last week to draw up options for a phased easing.
That is something that has previously been mooted by government advisers, and could mean varying rules by region, industrial sector or by expanding the list of 'key workers'.
Rising concerns about the impact on UK plc have driven claims of tensions between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Briefings at the weekend accused Mr Hancock of ignoring the huge economic suffering being caused by the lockdown because he feared the verdict of history if the NHS collapses under the strain of the pandemic.
Education Select Committee chairman Robert Halfon, a former Cabinet minister, said this afternoon that he expects a staged re-openings of schools and restaurants when the epidemic begins to ease.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4's World at One, the Tory MP said: 'We are walking hand-grenades potentially at the moment in the way that we can spread this disease.
'And that is what lies I think behind the Government's decision (to impose a lockdown). I suspect that when things get better, we will be allowed out in stages.
Parks should not be closed unless it is 'impossible' to maintain social distancing in them, the Government has urged councils.
Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said on Monday that he had called local leaders to warn them to be 'very judicious' in locking open spaces.
One London authority closed a park over the weekend after reporting thousands of visitors flocking to it to enjoy the sun and warmth breaking through.
But there are concerns that public confidence could be lost if those in power with gardens and ample living space tell those who live in crowded conditions they cannot go to the park or exercise outdoors.
Mr Jenrick agreed he has a 'lot of sympathy' with those concerns as he said he had spoken to 'a number' of councils who had closed parks over the weekend.
'This is their decision, but I have asked them to be very judicious in taking that step and only to do that where they feel it is impossible to maintain social distancing rules within their parks or open spaces,' he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
'I think that is what motivated them over the weekend.'
Sunny, warmer-than-average conditions are set to continue this week, with a peak of around 24C (75.2F) forecast for Wednesday and Thursday in southern England, the Met Office said.
Mr Jenrick implored people to stay inside, with the potential