Thousands of people flocked to the UK’s beaches this week, as temperatures soared – with social distancing guidelines appearing to be far from some sun worshippers’ minds.
And with Thursday forecast to be the country’s hottest day of the year so far, with scorching temperatures forecast to rise even further; beaches, parks and other public areas could see large crowds gather to enjoy the sunny weather.
Pictures from Southend on Sea and Bournemouth show beaches heaving with people; some sitting on the sand, others jumping into the sea, and many falling foul of social distancing guidance.
The images of beachgoers enjoying the sunshine come just a day after Boris Johnson announced a change in social-distancing guidance from two metres to “one metre plus”, which marked the most significant loosening of the lockdown rules since their introduction back in March.
But Downing Street warned that the relaxations could be reversed if the public fails to observe the social distancing rules which remain in place.
Mr Johnson's official spokesman declined to comment on particular scenes on beaches, but told reporters: "The prime minister and the government's scientific and medical advisers have stressed the great importance of the public continuing to adhere to social distancing advice.
"It is only due to the public's hard work that we have been able to bring the virus under control, and if the rules don't continue to be followed and the virus starts to spread exponentially again, we will have to look at having to reverse some of the easements that have been put in place and I don't think anyone in the British public would want that to happen."
The introduction of the new “one metre plus” rule came as Mr Johnson also announced the reopening of pubs, restaurants, cinemas and hotels from 4 July, as well as new guidance that permits the meeting of two households inside homes.
Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, the prime minister said: ”Today we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end and life is returning to our streets and shops. The bustle is starting to come back and a new but cautious optimism is palpable.
“But it would be all too easy for that frost to return. That’s why we will continue to trust in the common sense and community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance, to carry us through and see us to victory over this disease.”
But the relaxation of lockdown guidelines came despite warning from independent scientists that it still appears early to relax lockdown, while the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance acknowledged that the new package of measures was not without risk.
Also speaking at Tuesday’s Downing Street daily coronavirus briefing, chief medical officer Chris Whitty suggested that people returning to “normal” behaviour would lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases.
“If people hear a distorted version of what’s being said, that says ‘this is all fine now, it’s gone away’ and start behaving in ways that they normally would have before this virus happened, yes, we will get an uptick for sure,” he said.
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