The government’s former chief scientist has warned that the loosening of lockdown rules – for England – announced today by the prime minister is “far too premature” and risks undoing “all the hard work” and sacrifice made since March.
“The government’s own science advisers are saying exactly the same thing,” said Sir David King, who was chief scientific advisor to the government from 2000-2007, and is now chair of the Independent Sage organisation.
Boris Johnson confirmed the widely trailed easing of lockdown restrictions in the Commons today, hailed by the Telegraph as “the biggest return of freedoms since lockdown began.”
‘1-metre plus’ enables July 4 reopening
The new rules apply only in England and include the introduction of a new “1-metre-plus” concept that eases the two-metre social distancing rule and enables many more businesses and leisure facilities to reopen on July 4 – and more households to meet.
The news that English pubs and restaurants, hairdressers and barbers, hotels, cinemas and theme parks will be reopening has been massively welcomed by businesses, politicians and the public.
But not, however, by the government’s official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), according to King, chair of the independent Sage group, who argues the level of new infections – approximately 1,000 per day/7,000 per week – is too high to safely relax restrictions.
“We don’t think it’s safe,” said King when asked about the new rules, adding “this is far too premature.”
People will be ‘at much greater risk’ says King
Referring to the 1,000-per day infection rate he argued: “We would say ‘let’s go into lockdown now’ if we were at the beginning of the pandemic. To come out of it too early is extremely risky.”
King said people will be “at much greater risk” in pubs and restaurants “because you are sitting in proximity to other people” and no one will be wearing masks. “It only takes one or two individuals who are shedding the virus sitting near you – not even close to you – and you are at risk of getting the disease.”
The government’s former chief scientific advisor added: “The second issue, and this is really just as important, is that we don’t yet have a functional test-and-trace system operating.”
‘If we are impatient, we are going to go back into lockdown and all the hard work will be undone.”
The new rules – for England – from July 4
“1-metre-plus” means people from different households can meet and be 1-metre close, instead of two – so long as mitigating factors are in place such as hand-washing facilities or face coverings.
A household of up to six people can meet indoors with another household. This includes being able to visit and stay the night, so long as social distancing is practised.
Pubs and restaurants
Both can reopen on July 4 – serving indoors and outdoors – so long as they operate in what the government calls a “Covid-secure way”.
This means more ventilation, table service and hand washing – patrons will not be asked to wear face coverings.
You may be asked for your name but pub landlords will not be checking everyone who enters their premises or their identification.
Households will be able to meet up in pubs and restaurants but only two-households – up to a maximum of six per-household – can be together at a time.
Night clubs and casinos
These will not be reopening on July 4 but the government has confirmed taskforces will be in place to help more businesses reopen in a “Covid-secure way” as soon as possible.
Hotels, B&Bs, holiday homes, boarding houses, caravan parks and campsites
All can reopen on July 4 in a “Covid-secure way” with campsites getting government guidance on how to operate their shared shower, toilet and washing facilities.
These will not be reopening because of risks regarding their shared accommodation that have to be overcome.
Face coverings remain mandatory but the two-metre distance is being eased to one-metre, enabling more people to use trains, trams and buses.
Sport and fitness
Gyms, indoor sports facilities/studios, water parks and swimming pools will not reopen on July 4 due to the risks involved from the breathing levels of participants and the shared facilities that risk spreading the coronavirus. However, councils will make their park’s outdoor gyms available.
Large running groups, fun-runs and similar events are still classed as a mass gathering and will remain off limits.
Cinemas, concerts, theatres, galleries and museums
Cultural venues can reopen but not for live shows in order to protect performers – meaning recordings can be projected to entertain socially distanced audiences.
Cinemas will stagger their schedules to reduce crowds in lobbies as well as providing seating options for families and individuals to maintain social distancing.
A venue’s cafes and bars will be allowed to reopen, as per the rules for pubs and restaurants.
Concerts, festivals and other outdoor events will not be allowed under the rules governing mass gatherings.
Places of worship – weddings, christenings, funerals, etc
Private prayer has been allowed since June 13 but larger congregations will be able to worship together from July 4 – subject to following “Covid-secure” guidance – but singing will be banned.
The measure means weddings, funerals, christenings, etc can be attended by more people – for the service, and subject to social distancing and “Covid-secure” measures.
However, because of the restrictions on households meeting and those for pubs and restaurants, the celebrations will be limited to a maximum of 12 people from two households.
Barbers and beauty salons
Hairdressers and barbers will reopen but nail bars, tattoo parlours and massage studios won’t because of associated risks in spreading the virus.
Opening back up on July 4 will be theme parks, adventure parks, funfairs, amusement arcades, model villages, wildlife centres, zoos, safari parks and aquariums.
Not reopening are indoor venues for bowling, skating and soft-play areas.