Government advisers warn lockdown lifting too early as crowds flock to beaches

A growing number of expert advisers to the Government on the coronavirus crisis have expressed concern about plans to ease lockdown restrictions in England from Monday.

As people flocked to beaches and beauty spots in the sweltering heat over the weekend, Professor Peter Horby, of the University of Oxford, joined scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, all members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), to warn that ministers are taking risks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that from Monday in England, friends and families can meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six.

But Professor Robert West, a participant in the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) which advises Sage, emphasised on Saturday that some 8,000 infections, and 400 deaths, a day are still occurring.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he told the PA news agency: "Put all this together and you have a huge risk, and it's not just me saying that, that there will be an increase in infection rates.

"Because we don't have track and trace in place, we won't know whether this easing of the lockdown has caused (an) increase in infections for some time, by which time it will be well under way, the second peak will be well under way.

"The Government is not taking its responsibilities for political leadership seriously.

"This should not be treated as a political crisis but as a health crisis, if you treat it as a political crisis it's all about managing your reputation, if you treat it as a health crisis it's about saving lives."

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A couple play cards as people enjoy the sunny weather in Shoreditch Park in London on May 30, 2020, ahead of the coming into force of the first significant easing of Britain's lockdown measures during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 30: People enjoy the hot sunny weather on Brighton Beach on May 30, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government continues to ease the coronavirus lockdown by announcing schools will open to reception year pupils plus years one and six from June 1st. Open-air markets and car showrooms can also open from the same date. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
SHOREHAM, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 30: People enjoy the hot sunny weather on May 30, 2020 in Shoreham, United Kingdom. The British government continues to ease the coronavirus lockdown by announcing schools will open to reception year pupils plus years one and six from June 1st. Open-air markets and car showrooms can also open from the same date. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 30: People enjoy the hot sunny weather on Brighton Beach on May 30, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government continues to ease the coronavirus lockdown by announcing schools will open to reception year pupils plus years one and six from June 1st. Open-air markets and car showrooms can also open from the same date. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 30: People enjoy the hot sunny weather on Brighton Beach on May 30, 2020 in Brighton, United Kingdom. The British government continues to ease the coronavirus lockdown by announcing schools will open to reception year pupils plus years one and six from June 1st. Open-air markets and car showrooms can also open from the same date. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
People play with a football as they enjoy the sunny weather in Shoreditch Park in London on May 30, 2020, ahead of the coming into force of the first significant easing of Britain's lockdown measures during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
Sun seekers sit together on a bench as they enjoy the warm weather at Ruislip Lido in west London on May 30, 2020, as lockdown measures are eased during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman reads as people enjoy the sunny weather in Shoreditch Park in London on May 30, 2020, ahead of the coming into force of the first significant easing of Britain's lockdown measures during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
30 May 2020, Lower Saxony, Hooksiel: Several sailboats are moored in the old harbour of the village. At Whitsun, numerous holidaymakers are expected at the coast of Lower Saxony and the islands. Photo: Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa (Photo by Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images)
People enjoying the good weather in Greenwich Park, south London, as the public are being reminded to practice social distancing following the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Swans and their eight cygnets swim on the Grand Canal in Athy, Co Kildare. (Photo by Niall Carson/PA Images via Getty Images)
A man jumps off a rock as sunbathers enjoy the sunny weather on Boscombe beach in Bournemouth, southern England on May 30, 2020, ahead of the coming into force of the first significant easing of Britain's lockdown measures during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman sunbathes in the good weather at the window of her tenement flat in Edinburgh, as the public are being reminded to practice social distancing following the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
People sunbathe and exercise in the good weather in The Meadows, Edinburgh, as the public are being reminded to practice social distancing following the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
LOCH LOMOND, SCOTLAND - MAY 30: Members of the public enjoy the good weather, following Thursday’s announcement by Scottish Government of the easing the lockdown on May 30, 2020 in Loch Lomond, Scotland.Starting May 29, Scotland allowed groups of eight, from only two different households, to meet in parks or gardens. Meanwhile in England, groups of six from multiple different households can meet in public as of June 1. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Sunbathers enjoy the sunny weather on Boscombe beach in Bournemouth, southern England on May 30, 2020, ahead of the coming into force of the first significant easing of Britain's lockdown measures during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
LOCH LOMOND, SCOTLAND - MAY 30: Members of the public ride jet skis whilst enjoying the good weather, following Thursday’s announcement by Scottish Government of the easing the lockdown on May 30, 2020 in Loch Lomond, Scotland.Starting May 29, Scotland allowed groups of eight, from only two different households, to meet in parks or gardens. Meanwhile in England, groups of six from multiple different households can meet in public as of June 1. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Sunbathers enjoy the sunny weather on Boscombe beach in Bournemouth, southern England on May 30, 2020, ahead of the coming into force of the first significant easing of Britain's lockdown measures during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
People enjoying the good weather on the beach at Durdle Door, near Lulworth in Dorset, as the public are being reminded to practice social distancing following the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
Sunbathers enjoy the sunny weather on Boscombe beach in Bournemouth, south England on May 30, 2020, as lockdown measures are eased during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a gradual easing of lockdown measures in England, with socially distanced groups of six friends and families allowed to meet in parks and gardens from June 1. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
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When asked whether he believes news about the PM's key adviser Dominic Cummings travelling from London to Durham during the full lockdown would have an impact on people sticking to the latest rules, the UCL scientist said: "Trust in authority telling you to do things is very important when it comes to people adhering to those rules.

"When people see something like the Cummings affair... that's not a recipe for trust."

The easing of England's lockdown will also signal the reopening of schools to allow some students to return, and more shops will resume trading along with outdoor retailers and car showrooms.

Asked if he agrees it is too soon to ease more of the lockdown, Prof Horby told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Actually, I do. We have still got 8,000 cases a day."

He added that although measures taken so far "have been very successful in... decreasing the numbers", it is vital "we don't lose control again".

He said one of the key issues is the NHS Test and Trace system, which has been rolled out across England with the help of 25,000 contact tracers.

But the programme will not be operational at a local level until the end of next month, while an accompanying app is delayed by several weeks.

Prof Horby added: "Sage has always been very clear that that needs to be in place and fully operational before social distancing can be safely relaxed.

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"We are not entirely sure what the effect of relaxing the social measures will be, and so we need to have that safety net of the test, trace and isolate system.

"And, as we know, it's not yet fully operational – so, I think that is where the risk lies. We are entering a period where there is a risk of increasing transmission, but we don't yet have that safety net fully in place."

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also said he believes lockdown restrictions are being relaxed too soon.

He told the BBC: "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."

Professor Edmunds, meanwhile, told Sky News officials are "trying to replace these blanket measures with a much more targeted approach, this track and trace, where instead of everybody being in lockdown you put those who are most at risk in lockdown for a couple of weeks."

But because the new system only started on Thursday, he added: "We can't be sure that is working effectively yet, and yet we're going ahead and making these changes anyway."

Sir Jeremy also said the track and trace system needs to be "fully working" before measures are eased, warning the virus is still spreading "too fast to lift lockdown in England".

In Scotland, people can now 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 up 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.

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