ENGLAND should prepare for a surge in Covid cases as lockdown restrictions are lifted today, a minister has warned.
People can now play team sports and have social gatherings outdoors – including in their own gardens – and the “stay at home” orders have been lifted.
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Minister for sport and tourism Nigel Huddleston told Good Morning Britain: "We do expect as the measures ease for there to be a slow uptick in infection rates – that’s naturally to be expected."
As people in England can look forward to mixing with friends and family, Mr Huddleston said today was a “really big day, (for) millions of people across the UK are just dying to get back to the things that they love”.
But he described today’s lockdown easing measures as “cautious baby steps”.
He warned the PM may not be able to press ahead with his plan to end restrictions on June 21 if the public takes liberties with today's easing of curbs on outdoor gatherings.
It comes after repeated warnings from the Chief Medical Officer that England will "definitely" see another wave of Covid cases.
Professor Chris Whitty said last week: "There will definitely be another surge at some point whether it's before winter or next winter, we don't know.”
Experts say even though cases will rise, it shouldn’t cause a spike in severe disease or death, due to vaccines.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (SPI-M), a sub-group of Sage, told BBC News on Sunday: “This time we have got a very successful vaccination campaign, we have high levels of protection among the vulnerable, we may see cases rise a little bit.
“Hopefully, because we have that high level of protection for the vulnerable population, we won’t see a similar rise in hospital occupancy and rise in deaths.”
Despite half the adult population having received the first dose of a Covid vaccine, experts have urged them to continue following the rules.
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it was “really important” that vaccinated people do not think they are “invincible”.
He said: “They’re protected against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, but they might not be protected against infection after one dose, it takes three or four weeks for the vaccine effects to kick in, and they could potentially still transmit.”
UNLOCKING AS PLANNED, PM SAYS
Each step of the cautious unlocking roadmap will be measured to assess whether it is safe to move on to the next stage.
Ministers will measure the success of the vaccine rollout, infection rates and the risk of new variants.
There are concerns a third wave of Covid in Europe – believed to be caused by the South African variant – will spill into the UK.
The Prime Minister admitted what’s seen in Europe tends to hit the UK three weeks later.
He stressed that “we must remain cautious, with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout”.
But he has said currently there is no data that threatens the progress of lifting restrictions, and he will be back down the pub “in a few days’ time”, on April 12.
Speaking at the Conservatives’ virtual spring forum on Saturday, Boris Johnson said he can see nothing in the data to dissuade him from continuing along his lockdown easing roadmap.
FRESH AIR IS BEST
The change in lockdown rules in England today means groups of up to six, or two households, can socialise outdoors, and outdoor sport can start again.
And with a heat wave hitting this week, millions are expected to skive off work to celebrate new freedoms.
The “stay at home” order has been lifted, allowing people to travel further than just their local area.
Mr Huddleston said there were no restrictions on distance but insisted “this is not a free for all” and people should still be careful.
A new slogan has also been unveiled to stress the importance of keeping social mixing outdoors, where the virus is less likely to spread.
The slogan “Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air” will be plastered across media.
TV’s Dr Hilary Jones is narrating an ad campaign urging people to stay outdoors when meeting pals.
The clip animates the spread of coronavirus particles between a group of friends meeting indoors compared with in their garden, will be shown for the first time on Monday at 7.15pm on ITV.
On top of this, NHS psychologist Laverne Antrobus will be giving advice on how to deal with friends and family who suggest breaking the rules in a new public information campaign.
Mr Huddleston told Sky News: “The message is it’s outdoors, it’s not indoors yet, so please be sensible.”
The Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty said: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors. It is important to remember this as we move into the next phase.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the progress of the vaccine roll-out “must be protected”, adding “when you meet others do so outdoors and keep a safe distance”.
Professor Sir Mark Walport said the “hands, face, space, fresh air” slogan serves as a reminder to people not to “sneak into the house” as restrictions ease.
The former chief scientific adviser to the Government told Times Radio: “We know now that airborne transmission is the most important way which this virus transmits and clearly when you’re outside it gets blown away much more easily.
“And it’s one of the reasons that summer is a safer time for most respiratory viruses.
“We have just come out of a time of year when it takes people a certain amount of persuasion to be outside.
“The bottom line is, there is still quite a lot of infection about and we need to emphasise to people that the relax in the restrictions is outdoors and it doesn’t give people an excuse to sneak into the house.”
While greater outdoor freedoms are now permitted, the Government is still advising people to work from home where possible and minimise the number of journeys they take.
The next step in the roadmap to easing England’s lockdown is April 12, which is earmarked for non-essential shops and hairdressers to reopen.
Outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants, are also set to welcome customers.
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