Government scientists sound cautious note as Boris Johnson sets out further lockdown easing in England

  • Video report by ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston

Prime minister Boris Johnson has set out a more detailed picture of how England will move further out of lockdown as he warned local outbreaks could force him to "reverse some of these changes".

Earlier, Mr Johnson announced that pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will be able to reopen from July 4, providing they adhere to Covid-secure guidelines.

In an attempt to help the hospitality industry's reopening, the safe social distance will become “one metre plus”.

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, sounded a far more cautious note as they stood alongside the prime minister at the final regular government daily coronavirus briefing, warning the loosening of restrictions was "not risk-free".

Sir Patrick said the R number for the transmission of the coronavirus remains below one across the UK as the epidemic continued to shrink – “albeit slowly” – by between 2% and 4% a day.

“Don’t be fooled that this means it has gone away. The disease is growing across the world. It is coming down in the UK but it hasn’t gone away,” he said.

Professor Whitty said there was a risk coronavirus could start to increase in its spread if restrictions involved with the “one metre-plus” rules were not followed.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, he said: “A lot of the changes are about emphasising things that we can do and it is really critical that individuals and firms take these really seriously.

“Because if we don’t take them seriously then chains of transmission between households will be reestablished.”

Prof Whitty said such mitigation involved not sitting face to face or even “physical barriers”.

He added: “To be really clear, it is absolutely critical that every individual, every household and every firm takes these precautions seriously.

“If that does not happen, we will go back to a situation where transmission starts to rise again.”

“If people hear a distorted version of what’s being said, that says ‘this is all fine now, it’s gone away’ and start behaving in ways that they normally would have before this virus happened, yes, we will get an uptick for sure," Professor Whitty continued.

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Mr Johnson has said that he takes full responsibility for the decision to ease the lockdown.

“We are indebted to our scientific colleagues for their advice continually, but it is our responsibility to choose.”

Under the changes, indoor gatherings involving two separate households will be permitted – including the possibility of staying overnight in homes, hotels or B&Bs – but social distancing will need to be maintained.

Where the two-metre rule cannot be applied it will be replaced with a “one metre-plus” measure, with the protection offered by the physical distance enhanced by other mitigation measures such as the use of face coverings, increased hygiene or layout changes in premises.

Despite the easing of lockdown measures from July 4, Mr Johnson said police would still have the powers to break up large gatherings and urged the public "to act responsibly".

Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said a decision on whether to ease the two-metre rule in England will be for ministers rather than the government’s scientific advisers.

Sir Patrick has previously said the two-metre restriction was “not a scientific rule” but a "risk-based assessment".

Addressing MPs in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson warned thel measures will be "under constant review" and the government "will not hesitate to apply the handbrake, or reverse measures, should the virus begin to run out of control".

The daily Downing Street coronavirus press conference is to be scrapped in favour of ad hoc briefings, the Government announced on Tuesday.

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Briefings will instead take place to “coincide with significant announcements”, according to a Government spokesman.

A Government spokesman said on Tuesday: “From today, the press conferences will no longer be daily.

“We’ll continue to hold press conferences to coincide with significant announcements, including with the Prime Minister.

“We will be publishing all of the data which has previously been included in the press conference slides on every week day.”