DOMINIC Raab insisted that it was too early for the UK Government to consider an “exit strategy” from the lockdown until the coronavirus outbreak had hit its peak, which could come as early as this coming Easter weekend.

The Foreign Secretary’s firmness that the focus had to continue to be on putting the peak behind the country as soon as possible came as the latest official UK figures showed 5,373 patients had died in hospital after testing positive for the virus as of 5pm on Sunday; an increase of 439 on the previous day.

The number of positive tests hit 51,608.

It also came as a 165-strong international group, including 92 former presidents and prime ministers, along with current economic and health leaders in the developed and developing world combined to demand the creation of a “G20 executive task force” and an immediate global pledging conference which would approve and co-ordinate a multi-billion dollar coronavirus fighting fund.

At the weekend, Sir Keir Starmer, the new Labour leader, called on Boris Johnson’s Government to spell out how it intended to lift the restrictions as the outbreak receded.

However, Mr Raab, speaking at the daily Downing St briefing, warned it was essential not to distract from the need to maintain social distancing as the epidemic approached its peak.

"The risk is if we start taking our eye off the ball, of tackling the coronavirus, stopping the spread and getting through the peak, we risk delaying the point at which we could in the future take those decisions on easing restrictions," insisted the Secretary of State.

His comments were echoed by Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, making his first public appearance since ending his self-isolation, who said it would be a "mistake" to discuss exit strategies until it was clear the peak had passed.

"The key thing is to get to the point where we are confident we have reached the peak and this is now beyond the peak.

"At that point, it is possible to have a serious discussion about all the things we need to do step-by-step to move to the next phase of managing this."

Prof Whitty acknowledged, however, that in deciding when to ease the restrictions, the economic damage caused by the lockdown would be a factor.

"Anything that has an impact on the socio-economic status, particularly of people who are more deprived, will have a long-term health impact as well. We have to, in our exit strategy, balance all of these different elements, which can be in tension," he added.

At the daily No 10 briefing, Professor Dame Angela McLean, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, suggested social distancing was having an effect on slowing the virus and noted how the growth in admissions was “not as bad as it could have been” had the lockdown not been put in place.

"It is working but the big question is: is the virus spread slowing down enough to make hospital admissions stabilise and then even fall?"

Dame Angela said the hospital admissions data by region had risen "very steadily" until April 1 and then showed a "more complicated behaviour, starting we hope to slow down".

She added: "But it really is too soon to see the effects of the big changes we've all made to our lives from March 23 onwards because that's only two weeks ago and it takes several weeks after you've become infected for you to realise you're ill enough that you really need to be in hospital.

"We're all watching these numbers very, very carefully and we're very much hoping what's going to happen next is they will at least stop rising."

Meanwhile, in an open letter addressed to the G20, the group of former leaders, who included British prime ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and John Major, called for the speeding up of the search for a vaccine, cure and treatments as well as reviving the global economy.

They urge global collaboration and commitment to funding “far beyond the current capacity of our existing international institutions”.

Their statement says: “The economic emergency will not be resolved until the health emergency is addressed; the health emergency will not end simply by conquering the disease in one country alone but by ensuring recovery from Covid-19 in all countries.”

The ex-leaders’ plea is for agreement within days for: $8 billion to rapidly hasten the global effort for vaccines, cure and treatment; $35bn to support health systems, from ventilators to test kits and protective equipment for health workers and $150bn for developing countries to fight the medical and economic crisis, prevent a second wave of the disease flowing back into countries as they come out of the first wave.

This would mean waiving debt interest payments for the poorest countries, includIng $44bn due this year from Africa. The ex-leaders also propose a $500-$600bn issue of additional resources by the IMF in the form of special drawing rights.

The letter also urges the co-ordination of fiscal stimuli to avoid a “global recession becoming a global depression”.

In other developments:

*the SNP branded as "deeply reckless" the UK Government’s refusal to extend the transition period beyond December 31, insisting its “full focus must be on tackling coronavirus”;

*Downing Street hit out at Russian "disinformation" after a state-run news agency claimed the Prime Minister would soon be put on a ventilator in his battle against coronavirus – Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden will meet social media giants this week to “stem” the online falsehoods about the pandemic;

*the Queen's address to the nation on Sunday evening was watched by more than 23 million people;

*the Foreign Office has announced more flights to repatriate UK nationals stranded around the world, including ones from India, Nepal, the Philippines and South Africa - but travellers will have to pay up to £1,000 for a ticket;

*Labour’s Tony Lloyd, 70, the former Shadow Scottish Secretary, is in a Manchester hospital after contracting coronavirus, the party revealed, saying he was “stable and responding to treatment”;

*the 750,000 volunteer army in England is set to begin its work helping to deliver medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments, bringing them home from hospital and making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home;

*Mark Drakeford, Wales' First Minister, has called for an urgent Cobra meeting between the UK's four governments to review coronavirus lockdown measures.

*No 10 said sunbathing was banned under coronavirus-tackling measures but stressed it was up to the police to use "discretion" in enforcing the rules.

*industry figures show the number of new cars sold in the UK in March fell by 44 per cent or just over 200,000, compared with last year and

*the Duchess of Cornwall, 72, has been reunited with the Prince of Wales after coming out of self- isolation at their Scottish retreat at Birkhall in Aberdeenshire - just days before their 15th wedding anniversary.