The nation has been warned not to ‘waste the gains’ made against the coronavirus ahead of a major easing of the lockdown to allow greater freedoms outside.
NHS England National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said Covid-19 still has the ability to “wreak more havoc and health problems on a significant scale”, citing concerns over the new variants.
He issued the warning before groups of up to six or two households could socialize again in the parks and gardens as outdoor sports facilities reopen and stay-at-home orders ended in England on Monday .
Earlier, Boris Johnson said he was wary of the prospect of rising coronavirus infection rates, but saw “absolutely nothing in the data” to stop the easing of the lockdown.
The PM acknowledged that cases could worsen again as restrictions are relaxed, but said the “main difference” this time around is that the increase in prevalence should be “sufficiently mitigated” by the successful deployment of vaccines.
Professor Powis said the outlook “looks infinitely brighter and more positive”, but said easing “doesn’t mean the job is done”.
“We have made enormous progress on which we must build and not waste the gains we have made,” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
“We have to keep our cool and move towards the line, so that everyone can quickly and safely return to their normal lives.”
Meanwhile, the UK was planning to offer Ireland 3.7 million shots, in part to help ease lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland, according to the Sunday Times.
It would be the first time Britain has exported pikes to the EU and the newspaper reported that a Cabinet minister said it would be a ‘punch in the eye’ for Brussels amid an argument on supplies.
Moderna vaccines were expected to arrive in the UK in the spring, but the Mail on Sunday reported that the first 500,000 doses would arrive shortly as part of a rollout boost.
In a discussion at the Conservatives’ Spring Virtual Forum on Saturday, the PM said a ‘third wave’ was being seen in parts of Europe and that a ‘bitter experience’ had taught him that it could hit the UK “three weeks later”.
But he added: “There is a lot of promising evidence that a lot of people who might be vulnerable are now protected from death and serious illness, this is my hope, my hunch.”
Mr Johnson remained optimistic about continuing his roadmap to ease England’s restrictions, saying there is a ‘good chance’ of allowing non-essential stores to reopen on April 12, when hairdressers should also reopen.
“In a few days, I will finally be able to go to the barbers,” he said in a later speech.
“But more important than that, I’m going to be able to walk down the street and carefully, but irreversibly, I’m going to have a pint of beer in the pub.”
“And as it stands, I see absolutely nothing in the data that deters me from continuing on our roadmap to freedom, unlocking our economy, and returning to the life we love.”
Government data through Friday showed 29,727,435 people in the UK received a first stroke, an increase of 411,305 the day before.
The government said 58 more people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, bringing the UK total to 126,573.
In Wales, lockdown restrictions were relaxed when the requirement to ‘stay local’ was removed on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday homes.
An easing of England’s lockdown will take place on Monday when the ‘stay at home’ order ends, and groups of up to six people, or two households, can meet outside.