Former chancellor Philip Hammond has called on ministers to set out plans to begin easing the coronavirus lockdown and restart the economy.
He said the country could not afford to wait until a vaccine becomes available before resuming more normal economic activity.
With Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to return to Downing Street next week after recuperating from the virus, Mr Hammond said he hoped it would mark a “clear step change” in the Government’s response to the crisis.
“The reality is that we have to start reopening the economy. But we have to do it living with Covid,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday.
“We can’t wait until a vaccine is developed, produced in sufficient quantity and rolled out across the population. The economy won’t survive that long.
“But we are going to have to do it alongside the measures that are in place to protect the population from Covid. That’s going to be a much more complex phase of this crisis than the initial acute phase.
“Locking everything down and keeping everything locked down is relatively straightforward. The challenge of how to carefully, progressively, methodically reopen protecting both health and jobs is much, much more challenging and calls for a really skilful political leadership.”
Ministers have been reluctant to talk publicly about an exit strategy, arguing that it risks undermining the clear message that people should stay at home in order to curb the spread of the disease.
However, there are signs that they are now looking at ways in which restrictions could be eased without risking another flare-up of the virus.
The Daily Mail reported that one option could see people allowed to socialise with up to ten of their closest family and friends, with small groups of households allowed to “cluster” together.
The paper said it could enable family members to meet for meals or friends to share childcare. It could also allow couples who do not live together to see each other.
Meanwhile, the Times reported that chancellor Rishi Sunak is drawing up measures to enable businesses to reopen in a “safe and practical way”.
Provisions are said to include putting up signs telling workers to stay two metres apart and to go home if they have coronavirus symptoms.
Communal areas such as canteens would be closed unless people could maintain social distancing and firms would have to ensure there are widespread hand-washing facilities and hand gel.
Mr Hammond said it is essential that businesses are told now what requirements they will have to fulfil when the time comes to reopen so they can begin preparing.
“If we are all going to have to wear face masks travelling on public transport, businesses need to know that now so that businesses that have the capacity to manufacture products like that can start planning to do so,” he said.
“If restaurants, when they eventually reopen, are going to have to operate with many fewer tables, they need to start thinking about how they adapt their business model to be able to do that.
“At the moment, for too many businesses, they just don’t know what the requirements imposed on them are going to look like and therefore what kind of preparations they need to make to think about reopening their businesses.”