The government is ploughing ahead with its plans to ease the lockdown in England despite growing concerns from its scientific advisers about the timing of the loosening of rules and restrictions.
Up to a dozen experts from the SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee and its subcommittees have warned it is too early for schools to reopen and too early to allow outside gatherings of up to six people.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden insisted the new rules that apply in England from Monday (June 1) are merited, describing them as “baby steps” towards a return to normal.
‘Guided by the science’
The government has reiterated at every daily briefing that it “is guided by the science” at every stage in its response to the pandemic.
However, the number of experts from its SAGE committee voicing their concerns about the loosening of lockdown measures has grown since Boris Johnson announced some restrictions – in England – would be relaxed.
The experts are worried about the number of measures being implemented simultaneously; low levels of confidence in the test and trace system that started this week; and, the relatively high number of coronavirus cases – currently around 8,000 per day.
“Brave” is how Prof Calum Semple from the University of Liverpool, described the new measures while warning lifting restrictions too soon could end up making the situation worse.
Midlands and north are in a ‘precarious’ position
Prof Semple told BBC news that the government risked “taking the lid of the pot that is still bubbling in places and risks overflowing in these places”.
“A large chunk of the country is actually in a good position but a substantial part isn’t,” said Semple, describing the position in the midlands and the north as “precarious”.
The dissension from SAGE experts to the government’s easing of lockdown restrictions reflects differences within the committee that is made of up of more than 50 advisors.
‘We need to proceed in a very cautious way’ – Dowden
Politicians are also voicing their concerns about easing lockdown. Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said more detail about the risk posed by the virus at a local level is needed while Mayor of London Sadiq Khan expressed his concern that the lifting of restrictions was being “rushed” and has urged people to “act with caution”.
Dowden delivered today’s Downing Street press briefing on the coronavirus and reiterated the prime minister’s advice that “we need to proceed in a very cautious way”.
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) also announced the return of live sport, behind closed doors – and subject to precautions.
Dowden said: “It is now up to individual sports to confirm they can meet these protocols and decide when it’s right for them to restart.”
He said the government has set out a roadmap that depends on confidence in moving forward in a “safe way” saying measures will be delayed, “or indeed we may even re-impose measures.”