Boris Johnson has urged the public not to “blow” the progress made in tackling coronavirus when lockdown restrictions are eased this weekend.
The Prime Minister said he hoped the reopening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers in England on Saturday would allow people to enjoy themselves, but in a “safe way”.
It comes as the Government announced that quarantine restrictions for people returning to or visiting England from destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Germany will be lifted from July 10.
The US is excluded from the list of 73 countries and territories where English holidaymakers can visit without self-isolating on their return.
Mr Johnson said the Government was making “progress” in reducing the incidence of Covid-19 in England, but faced questions on why pubs were being opened on a Saturday, which typically sees a higher rate of alcohol-related issues for police and the NHS.
In an interview with LBC Radio, the PM was asked whether he only “hoped” it would be safe. He said: “It’s not on hope, it’s based on a clear understanding of the statistical risks that we now face as a country.
“We’ve progressed thanks to the efforts of the British people from an incidence of the disease at about one in 400 a few weeks ago to maybe one in 2,200 today.
“You’re appreciably less likely now to be in close proximity to someone who has it than you were even a couple of weeks ago.
“We’re making progress, we aimed for July the 4th, we wanted to set ourselves a target, we think we’re in good shape but my message is let’s not blow it.”
Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds backed the return to pubs as a boost for the economy, as she called on the Government to adopt a “targeted strategy” in extending the furlough scheme to avoid a “flood of redundancy notices”.
“I have two small children, I have to say maintaining social-distancing at the best of times is a bit of a challenge,” she said when asked if she would be going for a drink.
“I hope, however, people will be going out to make use of those new opportunities to support local businesses but of course we all need to make sure and I very much include myself in that, that we are following those guidelines at all times.”
Number 10 said pubs will be allowed to open at 6am on Saturday. It is understood to have been delayed to avoid people drinking just after midnight on Friday.
In other developments:
– The number of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK has passed 55,000, according to the latest available data.
– Mr Johnson said gyms would be able to reopen in a “couple of weeks”, and vowed to try to get theatres going “as fast as we possibly can”.
– The Prime Minister urged people to wear face coverings when in confined spaces with people they do not normally see, revealing he has one with a Florence Nightingale pattern.
– The Office for National Statistics said almost 20,000 care home residents have died with coronavirus up to June 12.
Mr Johnson said there had been “far too many lives lost in care homes” and that the Government would “go over and look at” whether an earlier lockdown could have prevented some deaths.
He disputed claims that people were pushed into care homes from the NHS to make space in hospitals, saying that numbers of people going into care homes fell by 40% from January to March.
“What we certainly wanted to do to was to ensure we had the space in the NHS, that’s absolutely right, but what I’m told is every decision to move people out of the beds in the NHS was taken on a clinical basis and not in any way intended to endanger the care homes,” he said.
“Whether an earlier lockdown would have made the crucial difference is something that really we will have to go over and look at.”
The Government published its travel corridors list on Friday afternoon, listing 59 foreign countries and territories – as well as 14 British Overseas Territories – from where arrivals will not need to quarantine.
Greece was included in the list despite the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying earlier in the day that it would not be.
Ministers failed to guarantee reciprocal arrangements with all the included destinations, meaning some – such as New Zealand – will continue to order English holidaymakers to go into quarantine at the beginning of their trip.