Government advisers have warned easing lockdown measures from Monday could be too soon and cause a spike in the spread of coronavirus.
Scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, who are both members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the government on the Covid-19, said ministers were taking risks by following their current plans.
Sir Jeremy also said the new NHS test and trace system needed to be ‘fully working’ before lockdown could start to be eased further.
Papers released by Sage this week revealed advice given to the government in April said it was ‘likely’ the R-value – the average number of people that will contract coronavirus from an infected person – would go above one should non-essential shops be reopened.
The scientists therefore expressed concern at the latest measures lifting lockdown – allowing groups of six to meet in outdoor spaces and the gradual reopening of shops and schools – while the number of new cases each day remains ‘relatively high’.
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The comments come as Britain is set for a weekend of high temperatures and police have urged the public to follow current safeguards about social contact ahead of the lessening of restrictions, which do not start until Monday.
In a Twitter post, Sir Jeremy said: ‘Covid-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England. Agree with John and clear science advice.
‘TTI (test, trace and isolate) has to be in place, fully working, capable dealing any surge immediately, locally responsive, rapid results and infection rates have to be lower. And trusted.’
A document on a Sage meeting from April 13, released on Friday, showed the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) warned the government against reopening shops and leisure facilities.
The document said: ‘There is limited evidence on the effect of closing of non-essential retail, libraries, bars, restaurants, etc, but it is likely that R would return to above 1 and a subsequent exponential growth in cases.’
Downing Street reminded the public that meet-ups remain prohibited until after the weekend.
The Lake District National Park Authority has urged people to ‘show care and consideration for everyone who lives and works’ in the area, while Dorset Police has told people to ‘go home or elsewhere’ if an area looks too busy.
Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard said: ‘I know we are going into another weekend where the weather looks fantastic and beautiful, and that will bring many temptations for us to go outside and perhaps meet with friends and loved ones that we haven’t seen for some time, and perhaps gather in large groups, but, quite simply the rules and regulations will not allow that this weekend.’
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham agreed. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think we have arrived at quite a dangerous moment.
‘This is premature, this easing of the lockdown. Test and trace is not fully operational and it should be, in my view, before these steps are taken.’
Referring to the coronavirus infection rate, Mr Burnham said: ‘The R number… is still quite high.’
It comes after another police chief suggested the government pushed the easing of restrictions forward ‘to help ministers in a difficult position’.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced yesterday self-employed workers will be eligible for a second and final grant and confirmed employers must start paying towards the wages of furloughed staff from August.
Mr Sunak said the schemes had been a ‘lifeline’ for millions of people and businesses, but that as the country comes through the ‘other side’ of the Covid-19 crisis, it was time to adjust them to ‘ensure those who are able to work can do so’.
He has extended the self-employment income support scheme – which has so far seen 2.3 million claims worth £6.8 billion – enabling freelancers to access grants of up to £6,570 from August. Individuals could claim up to £7,500 under the first grant, which launched earlier this month.
Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds welcomed the extension, but said it was ‘concerning that there is no commitment within these plans for support to only be scaled back in step with the removal of lockdown’.
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Source: Metro News UK