The UK has announced 113 more Covid-19 deaths today, the lowest since lockdown began, taking the official count to 38,489.
Today the Department of Health reported the lowest figure in almost ten weeks – 74 people died on March 23, after which the crisis spiralled out of control.
However, the weekends always see a significant drop in deaths due to a lag in reporting. Last Sunday health officials declared 118 deaths, which was a 30 per cent drop from the week before.
Today has not seen such a dramatic reduction from the week before. But deaths are still declining from the peak in mid-April when the worst day saw 1,172 people die.
Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, warned it was a ‘critical time’ for following social distancing rules as England moves into the next phase of the lockdown from tomorrow.
Already thousands have flocked to crowded beaches and beauty spots this weekend to enjoy the hot weather ahead of the rule changes.
Dr Harries admitted it was worrying that people may be ‘cramming into cars’ sharing cutlery on the beach and being very close together, amid scientists’ warnings the relaxation of measures will ‘inevitably’ cause cases to surge.
The next step will also allow more than two million extremely vulnerable people in England who have been shielding for weeks to spend time outside, the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed today.
Speaking at the Downing Street briefing, Mr Jenrick said from tomorrow those people will be able to see a relative again or go for a walk, as long as they socially distance.
Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, admitted it was worrying that people may be ‘cramming into cars’ sharing cutlery on the beach and being very close together this weekend, after the hot weather drew crowds to beauty spots
In other coronavirus developments today:
- Robert Jenrick pledged 6,000 new homes will be made available to rough sleepers to protect them from the virus;
- The Department of Health said testing capacity in the UK had reached 200,000, but just 112,000 of those are for people with symptoms;
- Nicola Sturgeon accused England of under-reporting deaths in care homes, saying that is why Scotland’s figures look worse;
- The PM has praised the public’s ‘resilience’ as families across England will finally be able to see their elderly relatives again tomorrow, with millions of vulnerable people ‘shielding’ are given the green light to spend time outdoors;
- Chief science officer Patrick Vallance insisted ministers make final decisions on policy as he defended his SAGE advisory group from rising criticism;
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak is drawing up an emergency budget for July amid fears that the economy is descending into meltdown;
- Police and local authorities have seen beaches, parks and beauty spots crammed today, despite government advisers appealing for people not to ‘knock the pants out’ of new rules;
- Unions dismissed the idea that school summer holidays should be cancelled to allow pupils to catch up, saying teachers deserved time off after working ‘flat out’ during lockdown.
How is the lockdown being eased in England from Monday?
From Monday, people can meet outside in groups of up to six as long as those from different households continue to socially distance.
– Can I visit family and friends?
Yes . This means that family groups of no more than six can meet in parks and private gardens for chats and even barbecues.
– How far am I allowed to travel?
There are no mileage limits set for how far you are allowed to drive to visit family and friends in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the general advice is to remain in your local area as much as possible.
However, people in Wales will still not be allowed to travel more than five miles from their home for any reason except work or to purchase essentials.
Great, can we hug?
Sadly no. You still cannot risk infection by being too close. The same goes for handshakes or kissing.
If young children from different households are part of the group, they must not share paddling pools, climbing frames, slides or anything that would encourage them to be closer than two metres to each other.
Can I stay overnight?
Staying overnight at someone else’s home will still not be allowed anywhere in the UK, while even going indoors for any other reason than to access a garden or use the bathroom is prohibited.
However Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has advised that if the distance travelled to meet someone means that you have to use their bathroom, then ‘perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it’.
Can we barbecue?
Yes, but you must wash your hands, be careful about passing food or plates and keep 6ft apart.
How about entering their house?
Only if there is no other way of getting to the back of the property.
What about using the toilet?
You can, but you must thoroughly clean any surfaces you touch.
To be extra safe, you could even use a paper towel to open and close bathroom doors and perhaps consider using a kitchen roll to dry hands rather than a towel.
So what if it rains?
You will have to stand under an umbrella or leave. You cannot shelter in someone else’s home.
Can we camp in the garden?
No, Boris Johnson said he did not want you to stay overnight.
Do I only have to see the same group?
No, you can meet different people at different times, but try not to see too many in quick succession.
Can those shielding take part?
No, they must continue to shield if they’re in the clinically extremely vulnerable group and have had a letter from their GP.
What about the over-70s?
If they are not in the shielding group.
We are a family of six – can we meet anyone else?
No. The guidelines say you can meet only up to six people at any one time.
Can we visit a relative in a care home garden?
It would depend on circumstances and the care home’s management.
– What else will I be allowed to do under the new measures?
In England, Monday’s lockdown easing will signal the reopening of schools to allow students in nurseries, early-years settings, and Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to return to class.
Some shops are also set to reopen, with outdoor retail and car showrooms able to resume operations.
– When might restrictions be eased further?
Boris Johnson has flagged that more restrictions will be eased on June 15, beginning with the reopening of other non-essential retail shops such as fashion or homeware retail.
Other businesses, such as pubs, hairdressers and cinemas will have to wait until July before they can reopen, the Government has previously said.
Despite the death toll reaching 38,489, back-dated data from death certificates shows more than 46,000 people had been killed by the virus by May 15, 36 per cent more than the official toll given by the Department of Health (33,998) at that time.
If the same mathematical sum was applied to today’s official count of 38,489, it would suggest the true death toll currently is around the 51,000 mark.
There have been 274,762 positive test results since the crisis began. But this is a tiny fraction of the millions who would have been infected and never got a test.
Department of Health said that testing capacity reached the Prime Minister’s 200,000 target yesterday, despite only 115,700 tests being conducted.
Officials said the 200,000 includes the ability to do only around 112,000 diagnostic tests, including home testing kits, drive-through sites, and mobile testing units dealt with by laboratories, per day.
It’s unclear how the marginal increase (12,000 since the end of April) will support the new contact tracing system which launched on Friday.
Dr Harries said at this afternoon’s press briefing: ‘We have testing capacity up to 200,000, so we have lots of available use as we move into our test and track system.’
When Boris Johnson pledged to run 200,000 tests per day by June on May 6, Downing Street said hours later the figure referred to testing capacity rather than the actual number of tests completed.
The government was accused of ‘bending the rules’ to reach its initial coronavirus testing target of 100,000 per day by the end of April by including home testing kits that had been sent out, but not processed.
Testing continues to fall short of the PM’s own promise as long ago as 25 March that test numbers would ‘very soon’ reach 250,000 per day.
There are still 54,000 new infections happening each week – down from 61,000 per week at the start of May – and 133,000 people are thought to currently have the virus. This means one in 1,000 people are still catching it.
The Prime Minister says the Government’s five tests have been met and it is safe to start relaxing restrictions from tomorrow. But the alert level remains at four – which suggests they should stay in place.
From tomorrow, up to six people from six different households permitted to meet up in public places or gardens, putting exercise classes and barbecues back on the agenda.
Crowds have flocked to beaches and parks this weekend in defiance of the lockdown rules that remain in place until Monday.
They were tempted by temperatures that soared to 80F (27C) with the country enjoying the sunniest spring since records began and the driest May since 1862.
Official mobility data shows the number of people venturing out to parks has increased far above pre-lockdown levels as people look to socialise in outdoor spaces.
Mr Jenrick was asked how worried he is having seen pictures this weekend where social distancing has been difficult or impossible at the Downing Street briefing today.
He said: ‘We’re reasonably confident that the steps we’ve taken and will be taking on Monday are manageable but we have to all continue to play our part in that because the rate of infection remains somewhere between 0.7 and 0.9 and the room for manoeuvre is quite limited.
‘We’ll obviously keep this under very close scrutiny as we move into this next phase and as we approach the next decision point on June 15.’
When asked why lockdown rules are being relaxed ahead of the UK reaching the green Level 3 of the Covid alert system, Mr Jenrick said the latest steps are ‘cautious, modest ones entirely consistent with the message the Prime Minister delivered’.
Mr Jenrick said: ‘The alert level is changing. We are still at Level 4 but we’re transitioning to Level 3 and that does enable us to very cautiously open some businesses and aspects of our daily lives.’
Dr Harries added that despite the easing in restrictions, ‘the public really, really need to stick to those messages’ of social distancing and limiting exposure to other people.
From tomorrow, families across England will finally be able to see their relatives or friends who have been ‘shielding’ for months, Mr Jenrick confirmed this afternoon.
As part of the easing of lockdown restrictions, 2.2million vulnerable people will be take ‘small changes’ after spending weeks inside.
Guidelines will say they can go outside and meet one other members of their household, while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines.
Those being shielded are warned they still remain at risk and are advised to leave the house only once a day. They should not go to work or the shops and avoid crowded places.
Mr Jenrick said the relaxation of shielding will have a ‘huge impact’ on people’s mental health and wellbeing, while ensuring face-to-face contact is kept to a minimum.
Dr Harries emphasised that the shielding guidance is ‘very much advice’ that doesn’t need to be followed, and that ‘nothing will ever be 100 per cent safe’.
Dominic Raab also played down criticism that the curbs are being downgraded despite the government’s own coronavirus alert system level remaining at four – which suggests they should stay in place
Apple mobility tracker also shows a surge in the amount of travel across the UK as the lockdown begins to be eased
A series of experts have raised concern about the move to ease lockdown from Westminster – which has not been replicated in Scotland or Wales.
THOUSANDS OF NEW HOMES FOR ROUGH SLEEPERS
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick pledged to build thousands of new homes to shelter rough sleepers.
At this afternoon’s Downing Street briefing, Mr Jenrick said ministers were looking at the next steps after the pandemic, having been able to offer accommodation to over 90 per cent of the homeless since the start of the crisis.
Mr Jenrick said: ‘Some people will need help to return to the private rental sector, but others will need accommodation to be provided so that they can start to rebuild their lives.
‘That’s why 6,000 new supported homes will be made available for rough sleepers, providing safe accommodation for people we’ve helped off the streets during the pandemic.’
The Government will back the initiative and give £433million to fast track securing safe accommodation.
Mr Jenrick said 3,300 of the ‘homes’ will become available in the next 12 months, and £160million will be spent to deliver that.
‘But rough sleeping is as much a health issue, as it is a housing issue. It’s a crisis of addiction and mental health as well,’ he said.
‘So we will provide specialist support staff for rough sleepers in this new accommodation to ensure that they can continue to receive the health support that they will need to transform their lives and fulfil their potential.’
Head of the Covid-19 rough sleeping taskforce Dame Louise Casey warned that ‘the pandemic is not over’ and vulnerable people must still be protected.
‘For homeless people the task was to bring as many people in off the streets and out of communal shelters,’ she told the Downing Street press conference.
‘The goal was to protect rough sleepers from the virus, give them the chance to self-isolate and ultimately therefore do the best we can to save their lives.’
It will be around two or three weeks before the effects of the latest easing of restrictions is known, but Prof Devi Sridhar, who has been advising the Scottish government, warned it looks ‘inevitable’ that cases will rise again in England.
‘I’m very sorry to say that I think it is right now inevitable looking at the numbers,’ she told Sky.
‘If your objective is to contain the virus, to drive numbers down and to try to in a sense get rid of it so no-one is exposed to it, then it is not the right measure right now to open up.
‘It’s a big risk and gamble for exiting lockdown with a larger number of deaths than we did when we actually entered lockdown months back.’
Prof Sridhar said there was now a clear divide between Government and some scientists, but added that ultimately decisions will be made by politicians.
She said: ‘I think what they should be saying is they consider the science, and hopefully they listen to it but the decision, and who actually has the accountability, are the politicians and leaders.’
Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) to the Government, said people must proceed with ‘great caution’ as the lockdown is eased.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: ‘At the moment, we still have quite a large number of cases out there in the community and I think unlocking too fast carries a great risk that all the good work that’s been put in by everyone, to try to reduce transmission may be lost. So we do need to proceed with great, great care at this point.’
Asked if the Government is going too fast, he said: ‘I think there is a pretty unanimous message now that we need to take this slowly and go step by step. We need to evaluate the effect of each step before we move to the next one.’
England’s deputy chief medical officer yesterday pleaded with Britons ‘not to tear the pants out of’ the loosened lockdown when more freedoms are granted on Monday.
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned that abusing new liberties would fuel the spread of infection and said that the lifting of curbs should be treated as if gently lifting the lid on a coiled spring – ‘painstakingly’ slow.
The top scientific adviser said the country was at a ‘very dangerous moment’ in the crisis, as thousands of sun-seekers packed on to beaches to bask in scorching weather.
Professor John Edmunds, an epidemiologist at the School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the Prime Minister had ‘clearly made a political decision’ because the threat of a second peak remains high.
Two other Sage experts lined up behind Professor Edmunds on Saturday to caution that measures were being relaxed when the infection rate was still not low enough.
But the chair of the government’s Sage board has said it is for the government to decide when to ease lockdown measures.
Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, warned it was a ‘critical time’ to not ‘over do it’ when it comes to relaxing social distancing. Pictured: People enjoying the weather at Ruislip Lido in London today
England is set to move into the next phase of the lockdown from tomorrow, with up to six people able to meet, despite scientists’ fears it will cause a second wave of infections. Pictured: People at Three Shires Head on the River Dane, Derbyshire
As part of the easing of lockdown restrictions, 2.2 million vulnerable people will be able to go outside with members of their household, while continuing to follow social distancing guidelines. Pictured: Visitors and sunbathers flock to Durdle Door at Lulworth in Dorset on a scorching hot sunny day
People in England have been urged not to ‘tear the pants out’ of new looser lockdown rules. Pictured,sunseekers in Parsons Green, Fulham yesterday evening
UK MUST ‘IMPROVE’ IT’S CORONAVIRUS SITUATION BEFORE HOLIDAYING TO SPAIN
Brits’ hopes of holidaying abroad have been dashed as Spain’s tourism minister says the UK must ‘improve’ its situation with coronavirus before tourists are allowed back.
Maria Reyes Maroto said British tourists will not be among those participating in a proposed trial-run for allowing tourists back into the country.
The first tourism test-run is due to take place in two weeks, ahead of the reopening of Spanish borders to holidaymakers from July 1.
The news comes after the government has faced increasing pressure to scrap its scheme forcing all travellers arriving in the UK to spend 14 days in quarantine.
Tourism and aviation industries have warned the measures could scupper any hopes of economic recovery and there is now a growing number of ministers and Tory MPs demanding Home Secretary Priti Patel rethink the plans.
Instead, she said tourists from Germany and the Nordic countries were the most likely to be permitted entry for the trial.
The tourism minister said the Spanish and regional government were in talks with holiday providers TUI and Jet2holidays about the prospect of Brits returning to the country.
The Mirror reported she told Spanish media the likelihood of holidaymakers from the UK being the first to visit Spain were slim: ‘There the health situation still has to improve.
‘For us it is important to guarantee that people arrive healthy and leave healthy.’
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Sir Patrick Vallance, who heads up the advisory board of scientists guiding the government through this pandemic, explained Sage was only there to advise politicians, who have the final say on what to do with evidence presented to them.
Sir Patrick, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government since March 2018, wrote: ‘Science advice to Cobr and to ministers needs to be direct and given without fear or favour. But it is advice. Ministers must decide and have to take many other factors into consideration.’
Dominic Raab has also come to the Government’s defense on easing coronavirus lockdown in England, despite a chorus of warnings about a second spike. But he admitted that curbs will have to be tightened again if there is an ‘uptick’ in cases.
Asked whether the lockdown will be tightened again if infection rates increase, Mr Raab told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday: ‘We will target, if there is any uptick, and it could be in a locality, it could be in a particular setting, we will target very carefully measures that would apply to it so that we can take these steps but also keep control of the virus.’
The Foreign Secretary acknowledged the loosening that takes effect tomorrow is a ‘sensitive moment’, but insisted the government was making sensible changes to get the country back up and running.
‘We can’t just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition,’ he said.
Mr Raab played down fears that the curbs are being downgraded even though the government’s own coronavirus alert system level remains at four.
Nicola Sturgeon has stressed she is being more ‘cautious’ and the virus can still ‘run out of control’.
Asked on Sky News whether she thought that the PM was loosening the lockdown in England too quickly, Ms Sturgeon insisted she did not want to ‘criticise other politicians’ and they were all ‘trying to do the right things’.
But she pointedly said that in Scotland they were being ‘very cautious’. ‘This virus has not gone away,’ she said. ‘That is why in Scotland we are moving very slowly.’
She also today accused England of under-reporting care home deaths as she swiped at Mr Johnson for easing lockdown too early.
The Scottish First Minister said the apparent higher proportion of victims in care homes north of the border was due to the way they are recorded.
She insisted that people who died of stroke and ‘happened’ to have coronavirus were counted in the numbers in Scotland – whereas they were not in England, meaning that there was ‘under-reporting’.
BRITAIN ABANDONED TEST AND TRACE IN MARCH BECAUSE IT COULD ONLY HANDLE FIVE NEW CASES PER WEEK
Britain abandoned test and tracing for the coronavirus earlier in the pandemic because the system could only cope with five cases a week, it has emerged.
Official documents from the Government’s Sage advisory committee reveal that the routine testing and tracing of contacts of people with the virus was stopped because Public Health England was facing a desperate shortage of capacity.
Since the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed in York on January 31, 272,826 people in the UK have since tested positive for the virus.
This week the Government launched the NHS England’s Test and Trace programme, with 25,000 contact tracing staff and the capacity to trace the 10,000 contacts per day.
The decision to scrap routine testing for those displaying symptoms 12 weeks ago is now being seen as a major factor for how the UK has the fifth-highest total number of infections.
Sage documents show how, in a meeting on February 18, advisors said that Public Health England (PHE) could only manage the contacts of five Covid cases a week, hoping to possibly increase this to 50 people.
Minutes from the meeting say: ‘Currently PHE can cope with five new cases a week (requiring isolation of 800 contacts).
On the eve of Year 1 and Year 6 pupils returning to school, ministers are being put under pressure to massively speed up coronavirus testing.
The contact tracing programme was put into motion on Friday, with a website launching so anyone with symptoms can record it with health chiefs.
An approach that was abandoned in the second week of March when officials realised the virus was out of control, test and trace will make sure everyone with symptoms gets tested and, if they test positive, Government employees will track down everyone they have been in contact with and tell them to self-isolate for two weeks.
On Friday, the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said tracers should aim to have contacts of confirmed cases isolating within 48 to 72 hours of a test taking place.
Any delay beyond that would have a ‘significant impact’ on the ability to stem the virus, they said.
But currently almost half of test results are failing to come back within 48 hours, leaving the new army of 25,000 contact tracers racing to get in touch with contacts of newly confirmed cases in time.
Delays can mean chains of infection could quickly spread – thwarting plans to ease lockdown restrictions.
But experts last night said long delays for test results were still the norm, meaning efforts to trace contacts would come far too late as these individuals could already have passed the virus on to others by then.
It comes as a health chief warned at least 10 per cent of Britons will ignore requests to self-isolate when contacted by NHS Covid tracers.
Professor Isabel Oliver, who helped design the Government’s tracing app to track those who are at risk of being infected, told The Sunday Telegraph: ‘This has been a very prolonged outbreak.
ONE IN TEN BRITONS WILL IGNORE SELF ISOLATION RULES
At least 10 per cent of Britons will ignore requests to self-isolate when contacted by NHS Covid tracers, a health chief has warned.
Professor Isabel Oliver helped design the Government’s tracing app to track those who are at risk of being infected.
The Director of the Field Epidemiology Service at Public Health England told the Sunday Telegraph that though most people are willing to comply, a minority will disobey instructions.
It is thought that lockdown fatigue will cause people to ignore advice offered to them.
‘This has been a very prolonged outbreak,’ she said. ‘Invariably we find that everyone is very willing to help, but these are exceptional circumstances, with an outbreak that has been so prolonged and had such an extensive impact on the people’s lives, so it is understanding that some people will be resistant.
‘But having said that we are finding that lots of people are supportive and we are very grateful for that because for the programme to be successful in controlling the virus – we need that support from the nation as a whole.’
Test and trace launched in England on Thursday and Professor Oliver’s team immediately hit a wall of IT problems.
But she stressed that any delays to having tracers logged in was down to the fact that the app is run on a ‘very secure system’.
‘Invariably we find that everyone is very willing to help, but these are exceptional circumstances, with an outbreak that has been so prolonged and had such an extensive impact on the people’s lives, so it is understanding that some people will be resistant.
‘But having said that we are finding that lots of people are supportive and we are very grateful for that because for the programme to be successful in controlling the virus – we need that support from the nation as a whole.’
The concerns come amid reports that scammers are falsely alerting people that they have coronavirus in a bid to steal their data.
The Government today said that it was unable to say how many people have been tracked and traced using the software.
Professor Edmunds has warned that, even if the ‘untested’ contact tracing scheme goes smoothly, the country could still suffer 80 deaths a day until a vaccine is developed.
Former World Health Organisation director Professor Anthony Costello has predicted a resurgence of the virus without adequate contact tracing.
In a scathing tweet on Saturday, Professor Costello said: ‘We have 8,000 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.’
It could be another month before the scheme is workable at a local level – which has been regarded as crucial for managing outbreaks locally.