The UK remains “on the edge of the knife” and must act “sensitively” in the summer months to halt a second wave of coronavirus, warned a scientist.
Sir Jeremy Farrar said he is “concerned” about the increase in cases before bars and restaurants reopen next month.
Interior Secretary Priti Patel said people need to be “aware” of the risk of a second wave.
She said the city of Leicester could face a localized blockade after an increase in cases.
Sir Jeremy, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and director of the Wellcome Trust, warned that there could be a “very unpleasant recovery” from the virus in winter.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “We are on the cutting edge, the situation is very precarious, especially in England at the moment, and I predicted that we would see an increase in new cases in the coming weeks.”
The warning comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced great relief from England’s blocking restrictions to help reopen the economy. Bars, restaurants, hotels and many other businesses will welcome customers back from the 4th of July.
The blocking measures of each UK country differ, including varying rules on the reopening of food and beverage outlets.
In Scotland, beer gardens and open-air restaurants will be allowed to reopen from 6 July, and indoor areas may be used from 15 July. In Northern Ireland, bars and restaurants can open from 3 July.
The Welsh government has promised talks with the hospitality industry about a “potential phased” reopening, but no dates have yet been set.
PM economic recovery plan
Asked about the concerns raised by Sir Jeremy, the Interior Secretary told the BBC that “nothing would be more damaging to our country and our economy” than a second increase in virus cases, adding that the government’s plans to facilitate the measures were “pragmatic and responsible”.
Earlier, the prime minister told Mail on Sunday that if the virus was a “lightning bolt”, the UK is about to receive the “thunder of economic consequences”.
Johnson made the comment in defining his plans for a post-blockade economic recovery – which will include a new task force to quickly review the hospital, school and road building.
The number of coronavirus deaths in the UK increased by 36 on Sunday to 43,550. The majority of deaths occurred in England, while Scotland did not register new deaths from coronavirus for the third consecutive day.
The government’s daily numbers of virus deaths and new confirmed cases peaked in April and have been dropping ever since, although the downward trend is slowing.
There were concerns about people gathered across the UK during this week’s heatwaves, including illegal street parties in London, Manchester and Cardiff, crowded beaches and Liverpool FC fans attending mass celebrations.
But Patel encouraged people to go to bars when they reopen, while asking customers to “be responsible” and follow guidelines for social distance and hygiene.
Blocking facilitating ‘madness’
West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson of Labor described the decision to reopen bars in England next Saturday as “pure madness”.
He told the BBC that he feared that people’s “repressed feeling” after three months of blockade “would explode on the streets”.
Jamieson said leading policing figures disagreed with the government’s timetable and raised concerns last week at a meeting with policing minister Kit Malthouse – but were not heard.
He said that if asked, they would have suggested a “midweek” reopening date so that the police could “build up” over the weekend.
The Interior Ministry said it trusted the public to “comply with more subtle social restrictions” and that “there was no excuse” for disorderly behavior.
Meanwhile, the Home Secretary also told Andrew Marr that the government is considering imposing a blockade located in Leicester after 658 new cases were reported in the two weeks to 16 June.
She said she had talked to Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the potential enforcement of a local blockade and said “extra support” would be directed to the area.
But the city’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, said “there is no immediate prospect” of a blockade, adding that test data is still being analyzed.