A stark warning of the danger pubs present in spreading coronavirus has been issued by the top scientists advising the Government on the eve of their reopening in England.
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the coronavirus pandemic “is a long way from gone” as he urged the public to follow social-distancing rules when the lockdown is eased on Saturday.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, also warned of the danger of “superspreading” of Covid-19 occurring in pubs.
Stood between them at the Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public to “enjoy summer safely” so the ailing economy can be boosted without causing the virus to spread uncontrollably.
Prof Whitty added: “None of us believe, and I’m sure nobody watching this believes, this is a risk-free next step. It is absolutely not, that is why we have to be really serious about it.
“There’s no doubt these are environments whose principal job it is to bring people together, that’s a great thing to do socially but it’s also a great thing from the virus’s point of view.
“And therefore we do have to have a really clear and really disciplined approach to try and maintain social distancing whilst also enjoying pubs.”
Prof Whitty added that “there is no perfect, exact way” of easing lockdown as he discussed the balancing act being undertaken, adding: “We are going to have health problems, and economic problems, for sure.”
He applied the pressure on the public and business owners to follow the restrictions, adding that if they “do not take them seriously, the possibility of a second wave goes up sharply”.
Meanwhile, documents released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) identified bars in other countries as settings for coronavirus clusters and superspreading events.
The Government scientists suggested pubs, bars and restaurants would be the types of places that close first in the event of subsequent outbreaks.
Mr Johnson said he did not want to return to a national closure of all pubs, preferring to take more targeted measures now, but said he would “retain all measures in reserve”.
He said local lockdowns like the one imposed on Leicester would remain a “feature of our lives for some time to come”.
The PM was also forced to defend the way in which he has scrapped the 14-day quarantine for arrivals to England from dozens of countries, without the agreement of the devolved nations.
He acknowledged Scotland and Wales “have a slightly different take on this”, and added: “I’m sure we will get there together and common sense will apply.”
The UK Government had announced that quarantine restrictions for people arriving in 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 holidaymakers can visit without self-isolating on their return.
Sir Patrick appeared to disagree with the blanket approach imposed on every foreign nation on June 8, which has provoked ire from the travel industry and the Tory backbenches.
“Our advice has been clear that the quarantine makes most sense and can be used effectively when people are coming from countries with higher infection rates than we have here and that’s where the quarantine is a measure that would make a difference,” he said.
In other developments:
– The PM said the Government would next week set out a timetable for the reopening of still-shuttered businesses including gyms, swimming pools and theatres.
– Mr Johnson said cricket could resume in time for next weekend, with guidelines to be published in the coming days.
– The number of deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK has passed 55,000, according to the latest available data.
– The Office for National Statistics said almost 20,000 care home residents have died with coronavirus up to June 12.
– Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford confirmed the five-mile travel restriction in Wales will be lifted from Monday.
Restaurants, hairdressers and cinemas can begin reopening from midnight on Saturday, but pubs must wait until 6am, with Downing Street fearing early morning partying.
The PM has 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.
“I can certainly tell you I will buy and drink a pint but not a yard and I will repeat the message to everybody that this is a big turning point for us, we’ve got to get it right,” he said.
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”.
Newly published Government regulations have also revoked laws limiting indoor gatherings to two households and outdoor gatherings to six people.
Groups of up to 30 people are now permitted by law to gather at home or outdoors in non-Covid secure locations, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock has the power to close public spaces deemed “a serious and imminent threat to public health”.
The regulations, which must be reviewed by the end of the month, come into force at midnight but the Government has also urged people to continue following general social distancing guidance.
Meanwhile, the Government published a list of 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 Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying earlier in the day that it would not be.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticised the “shambolic” plans but said she wants to “maximise alignment” for Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Ministers also 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.
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