WHO expert calls on nations to ‘work together’ to fight coronavirus
On the hottest March day since 1968, thousands embraced the new freedoms to meet outdoors, enjoying picnics and barbecues. But as images emerged of crowded spaces yesterday, Mr Hancock made an urgent plea for everyone to enjoy the sunshine safely. He tweeted: “Let’s enjoy the sun but let’s do it safely. We have come so far. Don’t blow it now.” Amid steady progress in tackling the virus, lockdown restrictions were eased this week to allow up to six people, or two households, to meet in outdoor spaces.
But ministers have warned that social distancing is still vital, saying people who do not live together should resist the temptation to hug.
Paul Hunter, a professor at the University of East Anglia, said transmission of Covid was “much less efficient outdoors than in”.
But he added: “If we are to avoid having to go backwards into another lockdown it is essential that we keep to the rules in force.
“We are still a long way from being able to put the pandemic behind us. There are still a lot of new infections being reported each day and we do need to be cautious.
“If we relax too much too quickly with current levels of infection we could find ourselves in another surge in infections. That would mean having to backpedal on lifting lockdown and then having to extend restrictions for more months with the negative impacts that would have on society and the economy.”
The stark warning came as 56 further coronavirus deaths were reported across the UK yesterday, along with 4,040 new cases.
Sun worshippers gather on Southend beach yesterday
Latest vaccination statistics show more than 30.6 million people have now had a first dose, while 3.8 million have had both jabs.
While many people enjoyed the 24.5C heat safely yesterday, others were slammed for breaking rules and putting progress at risk.
In Leeds, hundreds of people soaked up the sunshine at the Woodhouse Moor park, close to the main student hubs of the city.
One resident said: “There’s hundreds here, literally hundreds. People have barbecues going on. It’s really frustrating, to be honest.
“I get it, it’s 20C and people want to enjoy the weather, but we’re literally a few weeks away from lockdown ending. Can they not just wait?”
Similar scenes were pictured in Southend, London and Cambridge as scores of people mingled in the sunshine.
This week, Boris Johnson said he hoped people would take advantage of the “beautiful weather” to play sport or exercise, but emphasised that the country should still “proceed with caution”.
People went out to bask in the 20C heat
In Nottingham, a dispersal order was put in place and alcohol temporarily banned after large crowds gathered in a city park on Monday. Footage posted on social media captured a brawl, with dozens of people drinking and ignoring social distancing rules in areas by Nottingham Arboretum.
The leader of Nottingham City Council, Councillor David Mellen, said a selfish minority had abused the easing of restrictions. He added: “We have all made sacrifices over the last year to keep each other safe.
“Over 600 local people have died due to the virus.
“We owe it to their families, to each other and to frontline workers not to jeopardise the strides we have made towards reducing the spread of Covid by acting so thoughtlessly and recklessly.”
Cllr Mellen said the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown provided “a cautious way out of this terrible situation and we all need to abide strictly to its rules”.
Alcohol will be seized from people entering parks from Tuesday, he added, amid an increased police presence.
Alcohol will be seized from people drinking outdoors
Nottinghamshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Steve Cooper said he understood people’s desire to enjoy the warmer weather but urged them to minimise social contact.
He said: “We would like to remind people that we are still only partly out of lockdown measures.
“The behaviour yesterday was unacceptable and we are disappointed people decided to behave in this selfish way.
“That is why we have now taken the decision to put a dispersal order in place.
“Our officers will continue to engage with people to ensure they are still sticking to the rules.
“It is up to us all to keep to the measures so we can continue on the roadmap out of lockdown, by keeping the virus at bay.”
Tourism chiefs in the South-west also asked people to be sensible and not travel long distances to reach beauty spots. Visit Devon urged people to only make a trip when it is “safe and legal”. Visit Cornwall said non-locals should “hold off on your Cornish dreams for a bit longer”.
Cumbria Tourism also asked people to “follow the guidance”.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics yesterday showed the incredible progress that has been made as the lockdown and vaccines help to save lives.
Covid-19 deaths have fallen by 36 percent in a week in England and Wales.
Some 963 fatalities were registered with the virus mentioned on the death certificate in the week to March 19, down from 1,501 the week before. It was the first time since October that the weekly total has dropped below 1,000.
Matt Hancock has warned people to follow the rules
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said the figures continued “the good news from recent weeks”.
He said: “As in recent weeks, it’s clear that the fall is connected with the rollout of vaccinations. While it’s good that deaths involving Covid-19 are at the level of mid-October, we’ve got to remember that 963 Covid-related deaths in a week would have looked frighteningly high last August when the figure was well below 200 a week for a whole month.”
Coronavirus deaths among people aged 80 and over have now fallen by 90 percent since the second wave peak, figures showed.
A total of 150,116 deaths have now occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.