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Boris Johnson warns people ‘taking liberties’ could trigger serious infection spike

Johnson’s comments came after the Health Secretary reminded people the Government has powers to close public spaces such as beaches.

Crowds on the beach in Bournemouth, Thursday
Crowds on the beach in Bournemouth, Thursday
Image: Andrew Matthews/PA

Updated Jun 26th 2020, 10:03 PM

UK PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson has warned people against “taking liberties” with social distancing rules as he said it could lead to the danger of a “serious spike” in coronavirus infections.

The comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government will take action if distancing measures are ignored as thousands flocked to the south coast on the hottest day of the year.

Speaking during a visit to a restaurant in east London ahead of an easing of lockdown on 4 July, the Johnson said: “If you look at what’s happening elsewhere in the world where people have been coming out of lockdown, I’m afraid what you’re also seeing is people taking too many liberties with the guidance, mingling too much, not observing social distancing.

“So in some parts of the world – I won’t name them – you have got spikes, really serious spikes, in the instance of the disease, so it is crucial that people understand that on July 4 we get this right, we do this in a balanced way.”

Despite Hancock’s warning of possible beach closures, Downing Street signalled such a move would be a matter for local authorities.

Pressed on whether the Government would close beaches, a Number 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “It is for local authorities to manage numbers.

“I believe Matt Hancock, when he spoke, was referring to the powers to impose localised lockdowns which we have been clear throughout may need to be the case if we see case numbers rise in a particular area.”

Hancock told TalkRadio on Thursday the Government had the power to close public areas such as beaches if people flout safety restrictions.

It comes as Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council declared a major incident after services were “completely overstretched” as huge numbers of visitors crowded onto the beaches during the day. 

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty later urged people to follow social distancing rules in the hot weather or risk causing a spike in coronavirus.

He wrote on Twitter: “Covid-19 has gone down due to the efforts of everyone but is still in general circulation.

“If we do not follow social distancing guidance then cases will rise again.

“Naturally people will want to enjoy the sun but we need to do so in a way that is safe for all.”

In an interview with TalkRadio, Mr Hancock said he was “reluctant” to go down the route of shutting public spaces as “people have had a pretty tough lockdown”.

But he added that if there was a spike in the number of coronavirus cases “then we will take action”.

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole council said extra police patrols had to be brought in following the “irresponsible” behaviour of crowds who gridlocked roads, dumped rubbish, abused refuse collectors and parked illegally.

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Meanwhile, thousands of Liverpool fans flocked to Anfield on Thursday night to celebrate the club’s Premier League title.

Temperatures soared to 33.4C (92.12F) at Heathrow Airport in west London on Thursday, making it the hottest day of the year so far.

However, one scientist warned on Friday about the dangers of “over-stating” the number of people breaking social distancing rules.

Professor Stephen Reicher, speaking in his capacity as a member of the group known as Independent Sage, said aerial shots of the beaches suggested “most people were still trying to keep a two metre distance”.

He told a press conference: “The danger of over-stating the problem is that you create a norm.

“You’re told that everybody else is breaking the lockdown, and it makes you think there’s no point in me doing it as well.”

He added: “Maintain social and physical distancing, but let’s not underestimate the people who are adhering and the atypicality of those who are not.”

Walk-in centres

Walk-in centres for Covid-19 testing are also being set up to make it easier for people without cars to get tested for the virus.

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Six centres are being trialled in Newcastle, Rochdale, Leeds, Brent, Newham and Slough, with the latter described as a hybrid drive and walk through.

The exact location of the centres has not been confirmed by officials but one is understood to be on a basketball court, and there have been reports they will spring up in empty shops and car parks.

A source at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said officials were working on “walk through testing sites in England for people without cars”.

The source said that previously the push was to have testing sites out of the way so there were not “huge” numbers of potentially infected people travelling into the centre of towns.

But they added that now incidence is lower, they can look at ways to safely provide testing “in the heart of communities”, in a way that is more easy and accessible to people.

The latest NHS Test and Trace figures show that 24% of people (5,062) who tested positive for Covid-19 between 28 May to 17 June and who had been transferred to the tracing system were not reached.

This number includes people who the service was unable to reach because there had been no response to text, email and call reminders. It also includes people who were reached but declined to give details of close contacts.

A total of 20,968 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the contact tracing system during the first three weeks of its operation, according to figures from the DHSC.

Of this total, 15,225 people (73%) were reached and asked to provide details of recent contacts.

During the first three weeks of Test and Trace, 113,925 people who had been identified as recent close contacts of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reached through the tracing system.

This was 89% out of a total of 128,566 identified contacts. The remaining 14,641 (11%) were identified as close contacts but were not reached.

The weekly figures on Test and Trace, which are subject to revision, currently show that in the seven days to 17 June a total of 82% of close contacts of people who had tested positive for Covid-19 were reached and advised to self-isolate.

This compares with 91% of close contacts in both weeks one and two.

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