The UK’s coronavirus lockdown eases today with millions able to see friends and family, more businesses can reopen and children will return to primary school for the first time in more than 10 weeks.
Huge queues formed outside Ikea stores in Nottingham, Reading and Essex today as the Government urged Britons to act ‘sensibly’ as they enjoy a host of new freedoms.
Outdoor markets and car showrooms are also among businesses that will be reopening this morning.
But the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health said today that their experts are concerned ministers are lifting the coronavirus lockdown too quickly, saying the Government’s own five tests have not been met.
Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘The five tests haven’t yet been met.
‘In terms of the R (rate of infection), it’s 0.7 to 0.9 in the latest Government assessment. It is below one but it’s a very limited room for manoeuvre isn’t it and we know how quickly this virus can spread and it’s difficult to predict then with quite a lot of the measures being eased at once what the impact that will have on the R value.
People queuing today at the Ikea store in Lakeside, Thurrock, Essex, which has reopened as part of a wider easing of lockdown restrictions in England
Customers queue at IKEA, Nottingham before it reopens on June 1 following its closure during lockdown
A car dealership re-opens in West London. Renault new and used car sales on the A40 near Acton. Face masks , wipes, and gloves are at the entrance for customers and staff to use, along with tape on the floor to guide people
Stall holders prepare their stock at Kirkgate market in Leeds, north England following the easing of the lockdown restrictions
‘We’re also concerned about meeting all the other operational challenges ready to meet a potential rise in infections.’
She said the national testing programme and the test and trace scheme must be ‘robust and ready’, and that personal protective equipment (PPE) supply must be adequate.
‘We’re not feeling just yet that we’re confident enough to meet any potential challenge if the Government goes too quickly on easing lockdown measures,’ she added.
Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF) said it is working to reopen all its 153 stores in England on June 15, having already reopened 112 of its sites across mainland Europe.
The government’s five tests previously stated that before easing lockdown it must be ‘confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections’.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove yesterday praised the ‘terrific dedication’ of the public for sticking to the restrictions over the past two months, but urged them to continue social distancing.
Customers wait in line for the opening of an Ikea store on June 01, 2020 in Reading, Berkshire
Outdoor markets like this one in east London are reopening again today as the lockdown was eased further
The Central Line in London today, which the capital’s mayor Sadiq Khan says will be overwhelmed if it is used by non key workers
This was echoed by Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, who said ‘we need to be very careful’ at this ‘critical time’.
She added: ‘We have to keep applying the social distancing measures, limit the number of interactions we have. Very carefully and sensibly pick up those easements to make our lives better, but not overdo it. So limit the number of interactions.’
Dr Harries said it was important to do not just what is possible, but what is ‘sensible’. She added: ‘What is sensible to do is have as few interactions as possible as you can with other people in all settings.’
One reason ministers say the lockdown can be lifted is the rollout of the test-and-trace programme. They claim they can carry out 200,000 tests a day.
However, the latest figures yesterday showed the Government carried out just 115,725 tests in the past 24 hours.
Despite the Government’s optimism, there is growing dissent among scientists over measures being lifted while the number of new cases is still very high.
The government’s five tests previously stated that before easing lockdown it must be ‘confident that any adjustments to the current measures will not risk a second peak of infections’ (pictured: Kirkgate today)
One reason ministers say the lockdown can be lifted is the rollout of the test-and-trace programme. They claim they can carry out 200,000 tests a day (pictured: Kirkgate market in Leeds today)
Six have publicly criticised the decision, four of whom are members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of Sage and an expert in experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said there needed to be a ‘massive gearing up’ of testing and tracing before the restrictions were eased to ‘any large degree’.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: ‘To me, we need the numbers [of cases] to be much lower. We need also to gear up test-and-trace in order to be able to cope with many thousands of cases which are now being seen.’
Meanwhile Professor Devi Sridhar, an expert in global public health at Edinburgh University, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: ‘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.’
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show there are an average of 7,700 new cases of coronavirus a day in England, with data from Kings College London suggesting there are 11,300 infections daily across the UK.
From today, groups of up to six family members or friends will be able to meet up outside provided they keep two metres apart.
Despite the Government’s optimism, there is growing dissent among scientists over measures being lifted while the number of new cases is still very high (pictured: Kirkgate today)
A car dealership re-opens in West London. Renault new and used car sales on the A40 near Acton
A notice at a car dealership in west London reads ‘Covid-19: Your safety is our highest priority’
Mr Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: ‘It is thanks to the terrific dedication of the British public, alongside the continued hard work of our NHS, that we are able today to move to step two of our recovery strategy and begin to carefully ease some lockdown measures.
PRIMARK PLANS TO REOPEN ALL 153 STORES IN ENGLAND ON JUNE 15
Primark owner Associated British Foods (ABF) has said it is working to reopen all its 153 stores in England on June 15, after the Government gave non-essential retailers the go-ahead to welcome customers again.
It said that it expects to have reopened 281 of its stores by that date, having already reopened 112 of its sites across mainland Europe.
The retailer said it is awaiting further guidance regarding stores in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but anticipates openings in ‘late June’.
ABF shut all its Primark stores in March in the face of coronavirus, which it said resulted in a loss of around £650 million for every month that all stores were closed.
It said that it cut more than 50% off overheads at Primark in a bid to stabilise its finances during the pandemic.
In a statement, the company said: ‘As European governments have begun to ease restrictions on clothing retailing we have been able to reopen stores.
‘Safety has been our highest priority in our detailed preparations to welcome our customers and employees back to stores. We are following government safety advice in all markets.
‘Importantly, we will apply the valuable experience gained from more than 100 stores which are already open as we open the remainder of our estate, including stores across the UK.
‘Social distancing protocols, hand sanitiser stations, perspex screens at tills and additional cleaning of high frequency touch points in the store are among the measures we are implementing.’
The retailer said trading has been ‘reassuring and encouraging’ in its recently reopened stores, with queues outside most sites.
Nevertheless, it said cumulative like-for-like sales since reopening have been lower than the same period last year.
The firm added that ‘as long as social distancing is required, we expect it to restrict the capacity of our busiest stores from achieving their aggregate pre-Covid-19 sales’.
Meanwhile, ABF said operating profits in its grocery business will be ahead of forecasts after ‘stronger sales’ of branded products, although profits in its sugar arm are predicted to slip.
John Bason, chief finance officer of ABF, told the PA news agency that the company feels ‘well prepared’ to welcome Primark customers back to stores.
He said: ‘We’ve largely been able to take the successful operations from overseas and introduce them to the UK stores.
‘We’ve changed the way customers will queue to avoid bottle-necking, but have been able to keep a lot of the experience similar to what customers are used to.
‘Our higher density stores, like on Oxford Street, will be more impacted by the social distancing measures, but we think the majority will still be able to perform on track despite the measures.’
Shares in the company jumped 7.6% to 138.7p in early trading on Monday.
‘With children returning to schools, some shops reopening and a chance to see friends and loved ones outside our households, this is an important step for our wellbeing and that of the country. But we must stay alert and it is absolutely vital that everyone continues to follow social distancing guidelines so that we can control the spread of the virus. The message to the public is simple: Stay alert, control the virus, save lives.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also defended the plan, saying: ‘We can’t just stay in lockdown forever. We have got to transition.’
Asked whether rules will be tightened again if infection rates increase, Mr Raab said: ‘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 we can take these steps but also keep control of the virus.’
Contact tracing was abandoned in March, but was relaunched as the NHS’s flagship test-and-trace scheme last Thursday.
It has faced a chaotic first few days with operators claiming they were not fully trained and only told the night before that the scheme was going live. Many of the ‘tracers’ also suffered IT issues.
The Government is ‘taking some risk’ by relaxing lockdown measures while the number of new cases of coronavirus recorded each day remains ‘relatively high’, an expert in infectious diseases has said.
Professor John Edmunds, who attends meetings of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) supporting the Government, said many experts would ‘prefer’ to see the number of Covid-19 infections drop before measures such as a relaxation on social interaction restrictions were introduced.
Latest data from the Office for National Statistics suggests there are an estimated 54,000 new coronavirus infections a week in England outside of hospital and care settings, equating to nearly 8,000 per day.
The so-called R value, or reproduction rate, is currently between 0.7 and 0.9, and must remain under one to avoid a rise in infections – a key test on whether lockdown measures should be eased, with the Government stressing the need to avoid a second wave of cases which would threaten to overwhelm the NHS.
Prof Edmunds, speaking during a Science Media Centre briefing, said the decision to relax certain rules came with a degree of risk.
He said: ‘I think many of us would prefer to see the incidence driven down to lower levels because that would mean we have fewer cases occurring before we relaxed the measures.
‘If we had incidents at a lower level, even if the reproduction level went up a bit, we wouldn’t be in a position where we were overwhelming the health service.
‘I think at the moment with relatively high incidents, relaxing the measures and with an untested track and trace system, I think we are taking some risk here.
‘Even if that risk doesn’t play out and we keep the incidents flat, we’re keeping it flat at quite a high level.’
The Government has launched its track and trace system designed to limit the spread of infection by ordering contacts of those who become infected with coronavirus to isolate.
Prof Edmunds, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, supported the decision to essentially substitute a ‘blanket approach’ to containing the virus with a targeted one, adding it saw a return to ‘some level of normality’.
He added: ‘None of us think, who have looked at this in any great detail, that that will be sufficient to be able to hold the reproduction number below one.
‘We all think we will have to have quite significant numbers of wider social distance measures in place.
‘The basic reproduction number for this virus is perhaps three, maybe even more, so we cannot relax our guard by very much at all.’
He said there was a need to try and get the economy restarted, to get people back to work and to provide a boost to people’s mental health.
But he said even if track and trace kept the R-value at about one, it would still result in around 8,000 community infections a day in England.