Boris Johnson will proceed with “extreme caution” in easing the lockdown, a Cabinet minister has said, as he warned the public not to “throw away” their hard work by going outside.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it would be “absolutely tragic” if people damaged the success social distancing has had on tackling coronavirus by leaving home to enjoy the warm weather.
His warning came on Saturday after police warned they are “fighting a losing battle” as Londoners headed to parks, beachgoers descended on Brighton’s pebbles and drivers set out on unessential journeys.
The Prime Minister was expected to announce only very modest changes in detailing his “road map” for easing the lockdown on Sunday evening, but there are concerns mixed messaging has prompted the public to head outside.
Mr Shapps said: “It’s vital that we don’t throw away essentially the great work of seven weeks of people respecting very impressively the rules and the guidelines by throwing it away because it happens to be sunny outside this weekend, that would be absolutely tragic.”
Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, he said the Government would be proceeding with “an unbelievable degree of caution”.
“Extreme caution is actually the watchword on this,” Mr Shapps added, after figures suggested the overall death toll for the UK has passed 36,500.
His warning was echoed by deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam who said the PM’s next steps will be “extremely cautious and extremely careful and extremely painstaking”.
Police in Hackney, east London, said that “sadly we’re fighting a losing battle in the parks today”, adding: “Literally hundreds of people sitting having pizza, beers, wines.”
Road police in Cumbria fined one driver heading from Manchester to Carlisle to “purchase some speakers he’d seen on eBay”, and another who set off from Bury to Dundee “to purchase a puppy”.
“The driver agreed he wouldn’t have made this journey when lockdown commenced,” officers said.
And the Maritime and Coastguard Agency pleaded with the public to stay away from beaches, revealing it had to deal with 97 incidents on Friday – the highest figure since lockdown began in March.
Earlier, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the PM’s announcement for England would be “very much in line” with the “very smallest” easing granted in his nation.
He said the transmission rate of the virus allowed only a “very modest” easing to permit more than one form of exercise per day, and for garden centres and libraries to reopen.
Schools in Wales would not be reopening to the majority of pupils in June, he added.
Mr Shapps said the four nations “have actually largely moved in lockstep”, dismissing concerns of a rift in the UK-wide response to Covid-19.
The apparent rise in people going outside came after warnings against sending out “mixed messages” with newspaper reports suggesting sunbathing and picnics could be permitted as early as Monday.
But Mr Shapps dismissed allegations the Government’s messaging strategy was confusing, saying: “I think that most people are more than capable of understanding what is meant.”
The Transport Secretary did not dismiss suggestions that the Government had told the airline industry of plans to impose a 14-day quarantine on people arriving from any country apart from the Republic of Ireland.
He declined to address widespread calls for clarity, with it unclear whether the rule would also apply to passengers arriving by boat and whether businesses would receive extra support because of fears the measure would be disastrous for industry.
In other developments:
– The Government failed to meet its own 100,000 tests per day target for the seventh day in a row, saying there were 96,878 in the 24 hours up to 9am on Saturday
– The Department of Health said the number of people who have died after testing positive for coronavirus increased by 346, meaning official figures suggest the overall death toll for the UK has now passed 36,500.
– The PM was expected to say garden centres could reopen in England from Wednesday as long as social distancing measures can be enforced.
Mr Shapps led the briefing to announce a £250 million emergency package to boost cycling and walking, warning that only one in 10 passengers could travel on some forms of public transport while abiding by the two metre social distancing rule.
“Getting Britain moving again” presents an “enormous logistical challenge”, he said, but would be aided by pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycle and bus-only streets.
“Moving beyond Covid will be a gradual process, not a single leap to freedom, so when we do emerge the world will seem quite different,” Mr Shapps added.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan welcomed the “significant funding” but the airline industry issued warnings about the Government’s quarantine plans.
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said the quarantine plan would have a “devastating impact” on the aviation industry and the wider economy.
“If quarantine is a necessary tool for fighting Covid-19, then the Government should act decisively to protect the hundreds of thousands of airport-related and travel-related jobs across the UK,” she added.
Airlines UK called for a “credible exit plan” to be detailed by the Government, with a support package perhaps including an extension to the job retention scheme and tax reliefs.
“We need to see the detail of what they are proposing,” a statement added.
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said there had been “real confusion” over border measures, with many Britons still stranded abroad and those returning concerned about going back to families.
“So they’re really worried about it, the wider public are really worried about it, and for weeks we’ve had mixed messages being briefed out of Government,” the Labour MP said.