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The public has been warned not to go beyond official guidance as lockdown restrictions ease further, with one expert claiming the UK could face a resurgence of coronavirus cases.
Small groups of people will be able to meet within the rules for the first time from Monday in England, and more than two million clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been shielding since March will finally be allowed to spend time with other people outdoors.
But the new freedoms, which will come into effect officially after a hot weekend which has enticed people to beaches and beauty spots, must be treated with caution, England’s deputy chief medical officer has insisted.
Addressing the public’s responsibility in stark terms while he took part in the daily Downing Street briefing, he said: “Don’t tear the pants out of it, and don’t go further than the guidance actually says.”
And writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said ministers had to take “many other factors into consideration” in making decisions, and that Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advice was “independent of politics”.
Minutes from 34 Sage meetings were published this week, with Sir Patrick writing: “Clearly it is right that ministers see the advice first and that they have a chance to consider it as part of their overall decision making, but I believe it is also right that the evidence base should become open for others to see too, so they can provide challenge and form new and important observations.”
His comments followed earlier concern from Government advisers about easing lockdown too soon.
Four members of Sage have spoke out to warn that ministers are taking risks.
He said: “We have 8000 cases daily, a private testing system set up without connection to primary care, call-centre tracing that appears a fiasco, and no digital app. After 4 months. Unless the population has hidden (T cell?) immunity, we’re heading for resurgence.”
Prof Van-Tam said scientists will be watching “very closely” how things go over the next few weeks.
From Monday in England, friends and family can meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six.
For those who have been shielding, a slight reprieve will come in the form of being able to go outside with members of their household from Monday, while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.
Those in this category who live alone can meet outside with one other person from another household.
The easing of restrictions for those shielding follows criticism that this group had been left feeling “forgotten”.
But Phil Anderson, head of policy at the MS Society, said people would want to hear the scientific evidence behind the decision, which he described as having “come out of the blue”.
“People who are extremely vulnerable will rightly want to hear a lot more about the scientific evidence showing this will be safe for them,” he said.
While the Prime Minister and Cabinet members have repeatedly tried to shift focus from the controversy over Boris Johnson’s senior aide Dominic Cummings, it shows no sign of going away.
The easing of England’s lockdown will also signal the reopening of schools to allow more students to return, while outdoor retailers and car showrooms are also able to reopen.
In Scotland, people can meet others from one other household at a time as long as it is outdoors, but social distancing should continue and groups must be a maximum of eight people.
People in Wales will be allowed to meet with others outdoors from Monday.
In Northern Ireland, more retailers can open and small outdoor weddings will receive the go-ahead from June 8 if the coronavirus infection rate remains under control.
“With the government announcing further relaxations of the guidelines, and particularly with the current warm weather, I know people will be tempted to get outside. This is a reminder that the rules on spending time with only one other person from another household remains in place this weekend.
“The rules are there for your own safety and the safety of others and to ensure that people aren’t put at unnecessary risk and everyone can enjoy spending time outside.
“Our advice would be to stay at home wherever possible but where journeys are being made people should avoid using public transport, other than for essential journeys, and make any journeys by cycling, walking or driving in a private vehicle. People also should check in advance of visiting places like National Parks and beaches to make sure they are prepared for visitors.”
Supt Davies added: “As with previous weekends during the lockdown, we will be out and about reminding people why restrictions are in place and encouraging the public to do the right thing and keep social distancing. We also have powers to enforce the legislation, with fines starting at £100.
We’ve joined forces with @seftoncouncil and @MerseyFire to ask the public to remain sensible and respectful if they visit #Sefton beaches and beauty spots following reports of antisocial behaviour, littering, fires and illegal parking. More here: https://t.co/HAZab0vgWG pic.twitter.com/QeViw8s6wU
— Merseyside Police (@MerseyPolice) May 29, 2020
“We will also work closely with the Coastguard and local authorities to monitor our coasts and open spaces and continue to proactively police our road networks to ensure people are keeping to the speed limit; not driving under the influence of drink or drugs, not using their mobile phone whilst driving and wearing their seatbelts.
“It has been a challenging time for everyone, and as we move into a new phase of the national response to this pandemic, it is absolutely vital that we keep going to ensure we can all return to some degree of normality as soon as possible.”
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