Britain

Scientists warn government against easing lockdown as temperatures soar

Three scientists advising the government on coronavirus have warned the easing of lockdown measures from Monday may be happening too early and could lead to a rise in infections.

The experts, all members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), have said ministers are taking risks by following their current plans.

Much of Britain is enjoying a weekend of high temperatures with police urging the public to follow current advice ahead of the loosening of restrictions in England, which will allow up to six people to meet outside if social distancing of two metres is observed.

Image: People have been enjoying the hot weather in Dorset while lockdown measures are in place

Downing Street has warned the public that these meet-ups remain prohibited until after the weekend.

Scientists have expressed concern that the NHS test and trace system to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is yet to be proven to be working effectively, and the reproduction rate of the virus is still only just below one.

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This "R" number is the measure of how many people will be infected for every one person who has the disease.

Professor John Edmunds told Sky News: "Small changes can put that reproduction number up above one. The more important thing is that we still have a lot of cases.

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"The number of infections that we have is about 8,000 new infections every day in England alone, and that's just in the community.

"There's more infections happening in hospitals and care homes and other enclosed settings, which wouldn't be included."

Sir Jeremy Farrar
Image: Sir Jeremy Farrar tweeted: 'COVID-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England'

Professor Edmunds and fellow SAGE member Sir Jeremy Farrar have also said the test and trace scheme, which went live on Thursday, needs to have been in place for longer.

Sir Jeremy said the system needed to be "fully working" before the restrictions were relaxed.

Professor Edmunds said: "Track and trace was only launched the day before yesterday, so we can't be sure that that's working effectively, and yet we're going ahead and making these changes.

"I think that is rather dangerous.

"Even if we don't get a second peak and we just keep the incidents at this level, that would still result in large numbers of infections over time and people will die."

Sir Jeremy said in a Twitter post: "COVID-19 spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England. Agree with John and clear science advice.

"TTI (test, trace and isolate) has to be in place, fully working, capable dealing any surge immediately, locally responsive, rapid results & infection rates have to be lower. And trusted."

Professor Edmunds and Sir Jeremy also expressed concern about the gradual reopening of shops, schools and larger gatherings to meet in private while the number of cases is "relatively high".

It comes as a tranche of papers released by SAGE members has revealed advice given to the government in April, which said it was "likely" the "R" number would go above one should non-essential shops be reopened.

Asked if he agreed with Professor Edmunds and Sir Jeremy that it was too soon to ease lockdown restrictions, Professor Peter Horby told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Actually, I do.

"You know, we have still got 8,000 cases a day.

"We have been very successful in bringing it down, decreasing the numbers because of the social distancing.

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