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Coronavirus news: Sport to return and groups of six can meet to exercise together says government, despite warnings on lockdown easing

Follow here for the latest updates on the pandemic

Andy Gregory,Peter Stubley
Saturday 30 May 2020 23:59 BST
Coronavirus: UK death toll reaches 38,376

Elite sport can return behind closed doors from 1 June, the government announced as it eased coronavirus restrictions to allow groups of up to six people to exercise together outdoors.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden described the move as “a significant moment” despite warnings from scientific advisers that Covid-19 “is spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England” with an estimated 8,000 infections per day.

With the new NHS test and trace system still “untested”, Professor John Edmunds accused ministers of making a “risky” and political decision, saying “Westminster clearly made a decision that this is the sort of level of incidence that they’re willing to tolerate”, despite it being “significantly higher” than similar European nations.

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Culture secretary Oliver Dowden will be giving today's Downing Street briefing at 4pm.

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 15:39

Scientific adviser labels reports of test and trace scheme chaos 'deeply concerning'

Professor Susan Michie - a UCL health psychologist on the Sage sub-committee SPI-B - has said she is deeply concerned by reports suggesting the government's test and trace scheme is not nearly as "world-beating" as the government has insisted.

She was responding to a report in The Guardian by an anonymous former contact-tracer who quit over concerns at a lack of training, who said they had been hired after responding to an advert for a "customer service adviser", which said: "Don’t let lockdown stop you getting your dream job.”  

The former employee alleged that many hired for the scheme are deeply worried about the lack of training and technical issues, which have left many at a loose end since the job began, on full pay.

Professor Rona Moss-Morris, head of psychology at King’s College London, described the scheme - upon which the easing of lockdown hinges - as an "abomination".

We have world leaders in behaviour change and education in the country," Professor Moss-Morris said. "How can we be get something so crucial, that other countries have done well from the start SO WRONG."

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 15:50

Government urged to 'draw back' on planned reopening of schools after warnings from scientists

The National Education Union (NEU) said the contact-tracing system must be running successfully before the risk level that comes with children and teachers returning to school can be mitigated.

In a statement issued on Saturday afternoon, just 36 hours before schools are due to reopen to more pupils, the union said comments from expert advisers undermine the Government's claim that it is following the science.

This weekend, Professor Peter Horby, chairman of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), joined scientists Sir Jeremy Farrar and Professor John Edmunds, all members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), in warning that ministers are taking risks.

Another Sage member, Professor Calum Semple, insisted that a "brave" political decision had been taken on schools reopening "were everything normal", but cautioned that high levels of transmission were still being seen, the BBC reported.

He said: "Essentially we're lifting the lid on a boiling pan and it's just going to bubble over. We need to get it down to simmer before we take the lid off, and it's too early."

NEU general secretaries Kevin Courtney and Dr Mary Bousted said: "No-one can now confidently assert that it is safe to open schools more widely from Monday. Opening schools more widely runs the risk of increasing the R rate and therefore the level of risk to staff and to parents.

"That risk can only be mitigated if contact tracing is running successfully. We have made that case strongly to Government - and we have been supported by the BMA and by the independent Sage group in our concerns. Government replies that it is following the science. But this public break by senior members of Sage, including by the chair of the NERVTAG committee, undermines that claim.

"School leaders, their staff and pupils' families deserve better than this. Even at this late stage, we call on the government to draw back from wider opening of primary schools from Monday.

"Instead we urge Government to engage in talks with the profession and the unions, including the NEU, about how to open schools more widely once the contact-tracing system is shown to be working."


Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:02

Oliver Dowden is kicking off today's Downing Street briefing, accompanied by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam.

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:03

Sport in England to restart behind closed doors from 1 June, says government

The government have given the official green light to elite sport returning behind closed doors in England from 1 June.

Competitive sport has been shut down for almost three months in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic with individual governing bodies subsequently in lengthy discussions over how and when to return to competition.

The new ‘stage three’ guidance, published on Saturday by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport after close consultation with the Deputy Chief Medical Officers of England, Public Health England and medical representatives across Olympic, Paralympic and professional sports governing bodies, will now see domestic competition permitted from Monday albeit with strict health and safety protocols in place.

Follow our breaking story for more details:

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:06

Groups of up to six people can meet to exercise together in England from Monday

Groups of up to six people will be able to exercise together outdoors in England from Monday as long as they observe social distancing rules, Lizzy Buchan reports.

In the latest easing of lockdown measures, teams will be able to train together while friends and family will be able to play non-contact sports in parks or gardens.

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:08

UK official death toll rises by 215 to 38,376

127,722 tests were carried out yesterday, Oliver Dowden has said.

They identified 2,445 new cases on Friday, bringing the total number of positive tests in the UK since the pandemic began to 272,826.

"Those numbers show we are now past the peak, and as we continue to flatten the curve we are able to start reopening parts of the economy," said Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, as he announced the return of live sports.

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:13

An Office for National Statistics survey has found that 98 per cent of adults say they are trying maintain a two-metre distance from others, Professor Van-Tam has said.

Additionally, 39 per cent of employed adults are working from home, compared to around 12 per cent last year.

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:18

Government defends lockdown easing but Professor Van-Tam warns 'don't tear the pants out of it'

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden says Sage experts are right to urge caution on easing the lockdown and says the government is ready to delay or bring back measures if necessary.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Van-Tam said: "Scientific opinions always vary to some extent, that's natural. Sage has been very clear, and I am being very clear that the easing of social distancing, the easing of lockdown has to go slow, it has to go painstakingly, and we have have be extremely cautious about how we do it."

"You'll recall I was at the podium when the disease activity was very high in the UK, and I said it was a very dangerous moment. I believe this is also a very dangerous moment. We have to get this right."

Prof Van-Tam said Sage has been very clear that it is likely the R factor will not be pushed back above 1 - meaning an exponential rise in new infections - with the new measures on Monday, but only with good compliance from the public and with an efficient test and trace system in place.

"That is not an absolute guarantee that it won't [go above 1], but it is a high degree of confidence providing contact tracing goes well, and providing the public adhere to the limited easement in lockdown that's taking place," he said.

He added: "So I think there's a dual responsibility here; of government, to go slowly and carefully and to take the advice from the scientists; of the scientists, to watch this whole thing very closely over the next few weeks; and of the public to actually follow the guidance.

"Don't tear the pants out of it and don't go further than the guidance actually says."

He urged people to be "sensible and proportionate" with the new freedoms.

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:30

The culture secretary insists government "continues to be led by the science", saying "I think today's guidance is an excellent example of that", in reference to the decision to restart live sports.

Asked if he thinks the contact-tracing scheme is well-established enough to hinge the success of lockdown being eased upon it, Prof Van-Tam says: "Yes it is new, yes it was announced last week, of course many countries are now putting these systems in place, and there will be some bedding in time required.

"But [project chair] Baroness Harding has been very clear that the system is ready, and I think we have to move forwards on that basis."

Andy Gregory30 May 2020 16:43

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